LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have approved a pilot program for 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 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.
Commissioners said yesterday that they are looking at paying for the program through the use of some of the $400,000 remaining in the jail planning fund in the Department of Corrections budget.
The program, as outlined 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 move out of the jail, as well as high risk offenders, who would be targeted for intensive treatment services at the jail.
Warwick said that currently the assessments are not done early enough in the process to help provide information to the courts resulting in decisions on treatment being made by judges rather than clinicians.
He said that currently 70 percent of those incarcerated at the Belknap County Jail have been there previously and unless intensive treatment is provided they will be back.
''Many have serious substance abuse problems and only get two hours of treatment a week. In many cases they need at least 200 to 300 hours of service over a nine-month period,'' said Warwick.
He said that Sullivan County, where he served as a consultant for their community corrections facility, has experienced a decrease in repeat offenders from 65 percent to 18 percent, resulting in substantial savings to the cost of housing prisoners.
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.
Abikoff said it is important to realize that addiction is a disease and not a behavior and said that she does not initially see any large increase in the numbers served over the 10 or so which currently take part in the Recovery Court program, which she said has already resulted in savings of about $350,000 over three years even though the program has received no county funding.
Warwick said that initially there might be a 10 percent reduction in recidivism, which could increase in a few years to a 30 percent reduction.
Warwick said that another New Hampshire county which 56 people in its drug (recovery) court program has realized a savings of $1 million a year in jail costs.
Members of the committee which came up with the pilot program included Acting Corrections Superintendent Keith 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.
Guldbrandsen, who could not be present for yesterday's meeting, sent a memo to the commission expressing her support for the pilot program in which she said ''the financial benefits of supporting this program should be clear to the county.''
The Belknap County Jail Planning Committee, which is headed by Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton), is working on a proposal for a 64-bed community corrections facility which is estimated to cost $7 million.
Warwick recently told the committee that the cost of staffing the new facility with six new employees is estimated to add $454,193 in first year costs to the current Belknap County Corrections Department budget. That number doesn't include program provider costs.
DeVoy says he he is hopeful that grant funding will be available for the program provider positions, which are estimated at $60,000 a year per provider, which would add $240,000 a year to staffing costs, pushing the total increase in staffing costs to around $700,000.
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