LACONIA — The Executive Committee of the Belknap County Convention has approved a transfer request from the Belknap County Commission for $46,564 to fund a pilot program at the Belknap County House of Corrections which is designed to reduce recidivism.
The action came Monday at a meeting held at the Belknap County complex and was unanimously supported by the four members of the seven-member committee who were present.
Acting Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray said that currently 70 percent of those held at the facility are repeat offenders and that the goal of the program is to reduce that to 35 percent over the next few years. The program will also serve as a bridge to wider programming which would be offered at a proposed 64-unit community corrections facility which are currently being developed by a jail planning committee and will come before the County Convention later this year for a bond issue of around $7 million for construction.
County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) said that currently many of those held at the county jail are ''sitting around watching TV and talking with other inmates abut what they'll do when they get out'' but are not receiving any programs designed to help them deal with alcohol and substance abuse problems.
''We want to put people to work doing good things and this program will help us get started,'' said DeVoy.
Last week commissioners voted unanimously to seek funds for the pilot program which will provide a comprehensive substance abuse/behavioral health assessment and treatment and offender case management program as a first step towards a planned "community corrections" center.
The program was developed by a committee of county agency representatives working with consultant Kevin Warwick, whose firm was hired to develop programs for a community corrections facility for the county, and calls for contracting with a private community-based treatment contractor at a proposed cost of $46,564 for six months of services provided by equivalent of 1.5 full-time workers.
The program, as outlined last week by Warwick and Jacqui Abikoff, Horizons Counseling Center executive director, would provide early intervention and screening assessments which would classify and target offenders appropriately and identify low risk offenders, who could be considered for alternative programs and moved out of the jail, as well as high risk offenders, who would be targeted for intensive treatment services at the jail.
The plan calls for a three track system to identify the treatment and transitional needs of offenders, an intensive treatment program for those serving a minimum of 90 days who have been identified as high risk, which would see 12-15 hours a week of treatment; a second track for short-term offenders identified as low risk and a third track for pre-trial inmates.
Members of the committee which came up with the pilot program included Gray, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, Public Defender Jesse Friedman, Restorative Justice Director Brian Loanes, Sheriff Craig Wiggin, Department of Corrections Program Director Tamara McGonagle and Abikoff.
Rep. Brian Gallagher (R-Sanbornton), a member of the Executive Committee, said that he was encouraged by the group that the commissioners had put together and praised them for ''putting together a plan which shows a vision for the county.''
The Executive Committee authorized the transfer of the funds from the $363,000 remaining in the jail planning account in the corrections department budget.
Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), who chairs the Executive Committee, issued a warning of sorts about the jail planning effort, saying that he was concerned over how the county will be able to handle the additional $454,000 in first year staffing costs for a community corrections center and the estimated $240,000 in program provider costs.
''I don't see how the county can come up with the new money. We're going to have to consolidate and cut people (elsewhere),'' said Vadney.
The Executive Committee also approved the transfer of $15,000 for overtime wages in the Corrections Department with the funds coming from the part-time wages account.
DeVoy said the transfer was needed because two full-time employees are out with injuries and overtime is being utilized to adequately staff the jail.
Gray said that the department has lost four full-time employees and five part-time employees this year and that newly-hired corrections staff need to attend the state corrections academy for five weeks as part of their training.
Rep. George Hurt (R-Gilford) asked if the department was aware ahead of time about the resignations and is there was an ongoing hiring process. Gray said the department is provided notice of resignations and that he has to go through a request to fill a vacancy process which takes about a month.
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