Sen. Shaheen & Gov. Hassan join Laconia Judge Jim Carroll in calling for increased funding for programs aimed at people with addictions to heroin

LACONIA — Presiding 4th Circuit, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll welcomed U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Governor Maggie Hassan, N.H. Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau and a host of local and state dignitaries in his courtroom yesterday for a discussion and brief press conference about heroin use and the benefits of Recovery Court.

Carroll, who along with volunteers from Public Defenders Office, the Restorative Justice Office, Horizons Counseling, the Belknap County Attorney and local police, created Recovery Court — the first and only type of court in the state operated at the circuit court level.

"I recently saw that a young man who I coached in (youth) baseball and basketball had died of an overdose," Carroll said, adding the death of this man was the second death of person he had coached who has died of a drug overdose.

The next class begins in November, he said, but he told the invitees that "there's no money". He said his continued optimism is like that of the hero of the classic movie "Field of Dreams" — if we build it, they will come.

The local Recovery Court has almost no budget and the people involved are volunteering their time.

Recovery Court is an alternative to incarceration whereby the defendant pleads guilty to an underlying criminal offense but doesn't serve the time unless he or she fails. Acceptance into Recovery Court is at the discretion of the county attorney often as part of a negotiation with the defense attorney. Once accepted, defendants are expected to undergo intense therapy, admit that drugs have brought them to where they are today, perform 300 hours of community service, report regularly to the jail for drug testing, attend either NA or AA, and gradually pay the costs of their participation. A failure means the defendant goes to jail for the crime for which he or she pleaded guilty.

People who have committed violent crimes against other people are not eligible for Recovery Court.

While everyone in attendance agreed the Recovery Court — as well as other so-called drug courts in the United States — should be funded, none of the legislative attendees offered much hope of money for these types of programs.

Hassan said that as a society and a government we are responsible to think about all of the people who are affected by heroin.

"It threatens our families and our safety," she said, calling attention to the fact that in 2014 more young people in New Hampshire have died from drug overdoses than in car accidents.

She also took the opportunity to "urge" the state Legislature to accept expanded Medicaid that could bring $5.7-million in federal money to New Hampshire, some of which will be used for a "drug court" in Hillsborough County and some of which would be dedicated to new drug treatment and mental health programs that she said the state desperately needs.

"It's sad were are here for the reason we are here," said Shaheen.

She said that while the whole state is in "crisis", the challenges in Belknap County are acute. However, every police chief she's spoken with agrees that "we cannot arrest or way out of the problem."

Shaheen added that drug courts (recovery courts) can work if there is are treatment and mental health facilities available. She also bemoaned the fact that a subcommittee in Congress voted to reduce the SAMHSA allocation for the next fiscal year and a different subcommittee voted to make cuts to community-oriented policing.

She called the cuts "penny-wise and pound-foolish" because if the problem isn't addressed as soon as possible, in the long run more and more people will become incarcerated, which costs the country about $20,000 per person more than treatment programs.

Nadeau noted that people who get treatment in Stafford County's recovery program have about a 25-percent crime recidivism rate while people who leave prison with no recovery or treatment program have about a 75-percent recidivism rate.

"Addiction is a medical and mental health illness, not a weakness in character," Nadeau said.

"We aren't Democrats or Republicans. We are all human being and some have a sickness," said Carroll. "(They are) sick and they have the right to expect clinical and therapeutic services to help them become more productive."

Sophisticated signal program proposed for 3/25 intersection

MEREDITH — After again discussing what can be done to ease congestion along the Route 3/Route 25 corridor with the Board of Selectmen last night, officials of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed to return with a proposal for coordinated signalization to improve the flow of both traffic and pedestrians.

Gene McMarthy of McFarland Johnson engineering company, the project manager, said that the equipment that controls the signal at the 3/25 intersection can manage whatever coordinated system of signals is proposed. In particular, he explained it could handle vehicles passing through the intersection along with a signal controlling pedestrians crossing Rte. 3 and do so continuously in real time as the volume of traffic and number of pedestrians traffic changed. This system, called "adaptive control", is slated to be installed for the first time in New Hampshire in Lebanon later this summer.

"The issue is capacity", McCarthy emphasized, explaining that without increasing the width of the roadway to accommodate the volume of traffic "not much can be done." However, he agreed that adaptive control of the signal at the intersection and another at a pedestrian crosswalk between Lake Street and Dover Street could offer some improvement.

In light of the antipathy of residents to roundabouts along the corridor, Jonathan James asked, with some trepidation, if any consideration has been given to constructing a roundabout at the junction of Rte. 25 and Pleasant Street. McCarthy cautioned against what he called "mixing and matching", or controlling one intersection with a roundabout and a nearby intersection with a signal. "They do not work well together," he said. "The signal stops the traffic, which then backs up into the roundabout."

Initially DOT had allocated approximately $6 million to address congestion through corridor. However, after the town soundly rejected a proposal to construct three single-lane roundabouts at Lake Street, the 3/25 intersection and Pleasant Street, the funds were assigned to other projects, leaving $1.75 million for Meredith.

Don Lyford, project manager for DOT, estimated that since much of the technology is already in place, enhanced signalization would cost approximately $250,000. McCarthy said that a proposal would be prepared and presented to the Selectboard later this summer.

Blankenship remains held in lieu of $30k cash bail

LACONIA — After a bail hearing Monday in Belknap County Superior Court, Judge James O'Neill refused Kenneth Blankenship's request to allow $30,000 cash-only bail be converted to corporate surety (from a private bonding company).

Belknap County Prosecutor Roni Karnis said Blankenship, 33 of Orchard Street in Belmont, had a history of running from the police and not showing up for court dates. She added that he continually lied to her office about where he lived, gave police in three different jurisdictions three different addresses on three separate occasions after he had told her office he was living on Elm Street in Laconia.

Public Defender John Bresaw said the only two things that can be considered when setting bail are whether or not a defendant was going to flee or if he/she was dangerous.

He said corporate surety will involve a bond company that employs it own conditions as well as the court-appointed conditions. "Thirty-thousand dollars cash is $30,000 surety and someone is liable if that is posted," he argued.

Bresaw said Blankenship pays child support, has been employed by the same company for four years and has signed a year-long lease for his apartment in Belmont.

"This is the only shot he has if he can find a bond company that will take him," Bresaw said.

Blankenship was the subject of a state-wide manhunt that involved the Belknap County Sheriffs Department and the U.S. Marshals who, along with Loudon Police, caught up with him last week while he was staying at a Loudonhotel. He is wanted for failing to show up in court for a pre-trial hearing where he faces a count of burglary in Gilford.

As to the second prong of whether or not Blankenship is dangerous, Karnis told the court he had been charged by Belmont Police for three separate domestic violence assaults on a girlfriend after he was charged and released in the wake of the Gilford burglary. She said the assault charges are in circuit court right now but may be bound over for indictment in Superior Court.

O'Neill kept bail at $30,000 cash only. Should Blankenship post bail, O'Neill added bail conditions in addition to those set by 4th Circuit, Laconia Division Judge Jim Carroll. Carroll ordered Blankenship was prohibited from owning or having a firearm in his possession, must maintain a set mailing and physical address, keep all of his court dates, and stay out of trouble. O'Neill added that he not leaving the state, consume no alcohol or non-prescribed drugs, be subjected to a source of funds hearing should he post bail, and be on bail supervision.