LACONIA — A young man suffering from mental illness has spent the last month-and-a-half in small, bare cell, with only a blanket and thin mattress, at the Belknap County Jail. His arms are lined with open wounds and recent scars, traces of his compulsion to harm himself with whatever he can get his hands on — cutlery, ballpoints, even plastic cups. He must be fed by a corrections officer. His clothes are fastened with velcro. The window in the door of his cell looks on to blank walls, for the sight of other inmates rouses him to frenzy. Apart from a half-hour to shower, he stares blankly through the door or huddles beneath his blanket, watched round-the-clock by the eye of camera mounted high on the wall.
Dan Ward, superintendent of the Department of Corrections, said yesterday that the young man is among five inmates, three of whom are considered dangers to themselves and watched 24 hours day, awaiting places at the New Hampshire Hospital, the state's psychiatric facility. They include one man who passes his days ranting and raving that the television in his cell, where there is no television, is broken and another hallucinating as he undergoes withdrawal from alcohol.
"We've become the new community mental health center," Ward remarked.
The Belknap County Jail is not unique. In 2004 the National Institute of Mental Health reported that 479,900, or 64percent, of the inmates in municipal and county jails in the United States were afflicted with mental health problems. The study found that only 17 percent of these inmates received treatment while incarcerated and less than half had ever been treated.
Ward said that of the approximately 2,900 inmates in the 10 county jails in New Hampshire about 38 percent have been diagnosed with some form of mental illness and a significant share of these are beset by drug or alcohol abuse.
Ward said that before 2010 it was unusual to have more than one inmate with a mental illness, but since then not only have their numbers grown but their length of stay has increased. "We're getting people who are long-term on watch, for weeks, not hours or days." While awaiting treatment in an appropriate setting, they languish in conditions more likely to aggravate than ameliorate their condition, he said.
There are few options, Ward said, for dealing dealing with the mentally ill in crisis. Genesis Behavioral Health, the community mental center serving Belknap and southern Grafton counties, has no secure facility where a person posing a danger to self or others can be held. New Hampshire Hospital in Concord, which had 250 beds in 2010 has 142 beds and a waiting list now. Ward said that this week he learned that one of the five inmates at his jail is the 23rd person on the waiting list.
When the mentally ill are taken into protective custody to forestall harm to themselves or others, they may be taken to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia, where capacity is limited, and held for observation or transferred to New Hampshire Hospital. If they are charged with a misdemeanor or felony, they are placed in the county jail. Those granted personal recognizance bail can be transferred to New Hampshire Hospital while once mentally ill inmates are sentenced, they may be housed in the Secure Psychiatric Unit of the New Hampshire State Prison.
That leaves pre-trial inmates held in lieu of cash bail at the county jail. "We're not mental health providers," said Ward, "but, we are responsible and liable for the well-being all our inmates." Demonstrating a restraint chair, fitted with belts that shackle arms, legs and torso, he explained that if they hurt themselves, the county bears the cost of their medical care we pay for their medical care.
Genesis provides emergency and counseling at the jail. Maggie Pritchard, executive director of Genesis, said that a master clinician assesses inmates with mental illness and may recommend admission to either New Hampshire Hospital or the Secure Psychiatric Unit. In addition, by what she described as an "informal arrangement we make ourselves available for ongoing contact with our clients at the discretion of the superintendent."
Ward said that some years ago the presence of staff from Genesis at the jail was "occasional, but now they are here almost daily." He said that the agency provides continuity of care for its clients who are incarcerated, but its services are not funded. Pritchard agreed, remarking "we're there because there are people there who are very ill." Ward said that he and Pritchard are working toward a more formal relationship that will include Genesis billing the county for its services.
Meanwhile, Horizons Counseling Center of Gilford, which operates the substance abuse program at the jail, also provides 40 hours a week of mental health services, particularly for those with "co-occuring disorders," that is, substance abuse and mental illness. Ward said that the county pays $100 per hour for these services and anticipates compensating Genesis at the same rate.
Ward stressed that if the numbers of mentally ill inmates continues to rise, the jail will require additional space and staff to manage them. "Inmates of diminished capacity can't be left alone for long periods of time and can't be segregated from others unless they are a risk to themselves or others," he said. "And they should not be housed with inmates sentenced for crimes." He imagined "smaller, special needs units" dedicated to the mentally ill.
Alternatively, Pritchard said that the capacity of community mental health system should be restored. "The clients should not be punished with incarceration for failing to get the right care, at the right time in the right place," she said. She recalled that in 1982, when the community mental health centers took the place of institutionalization of the mentally ill they had facilities that were secure 24 hours a day and supervised group homes. "Now there are neither," Pritchard said. She said that the state must fulfill the terms of its settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and organizations serving those with mental illness to significantly expand and enhance mental health services in community settings.
CAPTION: A mentally ill inmate, prone to injuring himself by any means that come to hand, lies underneath a blanket in a cell a the Belknap County Jail emptied of all but him, his clothes, blanket and mattress. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)
CAPTION: Dan Ward, Superintendent of the Belknap County Department of Corrections, explains that inmates afflicted with mental illness may have to be restrained in this wheeled chair to prevent them from doing harm to themselves or others. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/ Michael Kitch).
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 12:32
SUPERIOR COURT — A former Gilmanton man will serve one to five years in the N.H. State Prison after pleading guilty yesterday to one count of arson in an inhabited structure on Highland Street in Laconia that occurred on January 25.
Jason Clairmont, 37, was also sentenced to 3 1/2 to seven years in prison for each of two cars fires — one on September 4, 2013 outside the Funky Monkey night club and one on January 25 on the corner of Bowman and Academy Streets in Laconia. Both of those sentences were suspended pending good behavior.
He was credited with 169 days of time served for the occupied structure fire only.
In her offer of proof, Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen said Clairmont admitted to accidentally starting all three fires and on both nights the police were able to obtain private video footage showing him at or near the scene of each fire.
Guldbrandsen also said that aside from some grainy footage and Clairmont's own admission that he was in the areas of the fires the state's case was largely circumstantial.
The first fire occurred outside the Funky Monkey and the victim reported to police that someone had burned the top of her Volkswagen convertible. Judge Larry Smukler ordered Clairmont to pay $2,659 in restitution to her. The 3 1/2 to seven year sentence was suspended.
The next two fires occurred on January 25 within one-half hour of each other.
The first was a car fire on Bowman Street that Clairmont said he may have accidentally set at 2 a.m. when he dropped an ash into the car through a partially open window.
Guldbransen he told police that he tried to put it out but couldn't because the doors were locked, however firefighters would testify that the windows to the car were up and the doors were unlocked when they arrived.
Smulker ordered Clairmont to pay $18,356 in restitution to the owner of the car. The 3 1/2 to 7 year sentence was suspended.
The second fire of January 25 was reported a half-hour later and involved some lattice work in the front of a porch at 91 Highland Street. Clairmont told police that he could have accidentally set it when he tried to use the lattice as a wind block so he could light a cigarette.
Guldbrandsen told the judge that firefighters would testify that they tried to simulate the fire and that they had to hold a lighter on the lattice for 40 seconds before it caught fire.
Clairmont will serve one to five years for that fire. Smukler ordered him to pay $250 in restitution to the homeowner.
The suspended sentences — a total of 7 to 15 years — can be brought forward again within the next 10 years which Guldbrandsen said is a considerable amount of time hanging over Clairmont's head should he violate any rules of probation or parole upon his release.
Clairmont also agreed to participate in counseling while in prison as a condition of his plea bargain.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 12:13
LACONIA — In June, the graduating class from Laconia High School numbered just 108, the fewest in current memory, perhaps the fewest ever and, for the first time, fewer than the 119 graduates of Gilford High School.
"This has been a small class," said Superintendent Terri Forsten. However, she suggested that the number of graduates was skewed by several factors. She said that "four or five" members of the class of 2014 graduated in January rather than June and another "four or five" are returning in the fall with plans to obtain their diplomas. Another 15, Forsten counted among the graduates of the Laconia Academy, the adult education program offered by the School District.
Nevertheless, Forsten acknowledged "this was still a relatively small class in keeping with the trend we've seen during the past five years."
During the 10 years between 1994 and 2004 enrollment in each grade hovered around 200 and total enrollment from kindergarten to 12th grade was approximately 2,600. Since then total enrollment in the district has shrunk by approximately a fifth, with about half the decline occurring since the 2009-2010 school year.
The falling school enrollment reflects the sluggish growth and rapid aging of the city's population. Between 2000 and 2010, Laconia was the only municipality in Belknap County where the population decreased while the numbers of those under the age of 18 fell from 3,663 to 3,252, a drop of 11.2-percent, and slipped from 22-percent to 20-percent of the total population of the city.
Forsten anticipated the number of graduates to recover with the class of 2015, in which there are some 175 enrolled, but noted that the classes of 2016 and 2017 both number little more than 150 at this time.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 12:01
LACONIA — Despite the oppressive heat and predicted storms, a team from the Planning Department, Conservation Commission and Summer Youth Employment Program of the New Hampshire Lakes Association yesterday began tackling the infestation of oriental bittersweet threatening the trees that encircle the Perley Pond conservation area, off North Main Street.
Scott McPhee, the conservation technician of the Planning Department, and Dean Anson, chairman of the Conservation Commission, organized the undertaking while Deb Williams enlisted the youngsters, who spend most of the summer at boat launches helping to ensure that vessels do not carry invasive species, primarily milfoil, from lake to lake.
Oriental bittersweet is a woody vine capable of climbing to heights of 70 feet. The vines wrap themselves tightly around the trunks of trees, which ultimately die from the constriction. Unlike its cousin, American bittersweet, the oriental variety is listed as an invasive species, whose proliferation threatens native species and natural habitats. It is among the most common invasive species in New Hampshire, where it thrives throughout the state. The state prohibits the sale, transport, propagation and transplantation of Oriental bittersweet.
Both Oriental and American bittersweet produce waxy, orange berries that burst from pale yellow seedcases as they ripen in the autumn. However, while the berries of American bittersweet are clustered at the end of a branch those of the Oriental bittersweet are strung evenly along the stem.
The plant was introduced from Japan in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the construction of railroads was in full swing, and planted alongside the tracks to forestall erosion. From the railroads bittersweet spread to gardens and soon spread to virtually every habitat. Bittersweet may grow from seeds, which are easily and widely dispersed, or from its root system.
McPhee, who supervised the operation at Perley Pond, said that the aim was to harvest the vines before the berries emerged, otherwise the seeds would be spread to propagate new plants. The boys and girls pulled the young vines out of the trees around the pond and uprooted the plants. Meanwhile, he and Anson clipped or sawed the more mature vines that had wound themselves around the trees and climbed nearly to their tops. Severed from their roots, the vines will eventually wither and die. Then they dig up the root system from which the vines sprung.
The team filled a half-dozen plastic construction bags with cuttings and roots. McPhee said that the Department of Public Works and Waste Management, Inc. have agreed to burn the debris.
McPhee said that Oriental bittersweet is common throughout the city and, because it is so prolific, encouraged property owners to remove it before it spreads and matures.
CAPTION: The team working to rid Perley Pond of invasive Oriental bittersweet included, from left, Scott McPhee of the Planning Department, Dean Anson, chairman of the Conservation Commission, Hillary May, vice-chair of the Conservation Commission, Katherine Barbarian, Susan Oehlschlaeger-Hildreth, a science teacher at Laconia Middle School, Logan Cavette, Kyle McCoy, Devi Dhakal, Trevor Blake and Deb Williams. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Michael Kitch)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 July 2014 11:39
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