Judicial Branch, State of New Hampshire
603-271-2646 ext 2359
NEW DRUG COURT SESSIONS TO BEGIN IN ROCKINGHAM COUNTY
State awarded federal grant to help promote public safety
CONCORD, September 8 - The U.S. Department of Justice has awarded a $350,000 grant to establish a new adult drug court program in Rockingham County Superior Court which will offer non-violent offenders with a history of drug addiction and mental illness an opportunity to participate in an intense, court supervised treatment program for 12-18 months instead of going to jail.
Rockingham County Superior Court Judge Tina Nadeau will direct the new program with the Rockingham County Adult Drug Court Team which consists of representatives from law enforcement, the county attorney's office, the public defender, local treatment providers and probation officers. The Attorney General's Office Grants Unit will serve as the fiscal administrator of the grant.
"This team has worked together for over a year to reach consensus on the important goals of our drug court," said Judge Nadeau, who will preside over drug court sessions at the courthouse in Brentwood. "Those goals are to promote public safety by reducing the crime rate of drug addicted offenders, to provide the most cost effective punishment, and to provide an opportunity for people with serious drug addictions to receive treatment," she said.
A steering committee of community leaders will meet quarterly to guide the drug court team and to provide community outreach. "It is critical to the success of the program that the public be informed about how it works and why it will reduce drug related crime in our communities," Nadeau said. Rockingham is now the third Superior Court location to establish a drug court program. Similar programs are in operation in Superior Courts in Grafton and Strafford Counties and for juvenile offenders in Laconia, Nashua and Concord.
The new drug court is the latest development in an ongoing effort statewide, by the Judicial Branch, the Attorney General's office and the Department of Corrections, to reduce recidivism rates, cut spending on incarceration and increase investment in community based treatment resources. In its request for Justice Department funding, state officials noted that several recent studies of the rising cost of corrections in New Hampshire have shown that to reduce the number of repeat offenders and enhance public safety, there needed to be a greater investment in post-conviction treatment.
Attorney General Michael A. Delaney said New Hampshire needs to expand the availability of drug court programs and the grant to Rockingham County "takes the state in the right direction."
"If we want to reduce the number of crimes related to drugs, we need to be more aggressive and effective in our treatment and rehabilitation of offenders with substance abuse disorders," the Attorney General said.
A state task force on drug and alcohol abuse reported in 2007 that while New Hampshire is ranked as one of the healthiest state's in the nation, substance abuse rates in the state are higher than in many other areas of the country. The task force cited a national survey on drug use and health which found that nearly 10% of the population in New Hampshire had reported alcohol abuse or dependence and almost 11% reported drug abuse or dependence, compared to the national averages of 7.59% for alcohol abuse or dependence and 9.22% for drugs. The task force also found that New Hampshire 's publicly funded treatment system only had the capacity to serve 10 percent of the people who needed support.
State corrections officials estimate that anywhere between 50% - 80% of their population have drug dependency issues. "Justice Reinvestment in New Hampshire," a 2010 report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, found that 75 percent of the parole revocations in New Hampshire during a three month period were due to parolees involvement with drugs or alcohol; 41 percent failed to access or complete a treatment program to address their need for substance use or mental health.
A portion of the newly awarded grant funds will be used by the Seacoast Mental Health Center to hire a licensed drug and alcohol counselor dedicated to providing treatment for offenders in the Rockingham Drug Court program. Currently there are no publicly funded drug and alcohol abuse treatment options available in Rockingham County that could provide critical counseling support services, according to the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse. The services funded by the grant will now provide more localized care for eligible participants, said Jay Couture, the executive director of the mental health center, which currently works in the district courts in Portsmouth, Exeter and Hampton with offenders who suffer from mental illness.
"We have seen how successful this can be in the lives of people that are impacted." Couture said about the results when specialized treatment programs are coordinated with the legal system. Participants have fewer encounters with law enforcement, they are able to hold down jobs and live independently, she said.
"At the end of the day it is more cost effective and better for the individual if they can be successful in the community," Couture said.
Deputy Rockingham County Attorney Thomas Reid said that the prosecutor's office supports the drug court program as part of an ongoing effort to find adequate community based treatment for offenders who need that support to keep them from committing further crimes.
"We have people who have drug addictions in and out of the criminal justice system," Reid said. "If we don't deal with their addictions we will see these people back over and over," Reid said.
Participation in the drug court program, which is voluntary, will include regular drug testing and meetings with treatment counselors. Cases are reviewed weekly and sanctions, including jail time, will be imposed immediately if a participant fails to meet the programs requirements.
The drug court team estimates that 10-15 offenders, currently incarcerated in the Rockingham County House of Corrections will be immediately eligible for the drug court program. For further information contact Joan Bishop, Rockingham County Drug Court coordinator at 603-271-2521.
For more information about drug courts in New Hampshire is available on the Judicial Branch website.
Click here to learn more about drug courts nationwide from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.