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."
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