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About the May 28 ‘Forum on Alternatives to Jail’

How well put the May 6 Ledger-Transcript Viewpoint by Kenneth Norton and Tina L. Nadeau titled “Mental Health Courts would bring justice for all”! They state the case clearly: As we’ve emptied our the mental hospitals, we’ve filled up our jails. We’ve also filled our jails with low-level, non violent offenders with substance disorders.

In the past 30 years, the United States has surpassed all nations of the world in the number of persons per hundred incarcerated. We’re No. 1! This is a glaring fact in the fact-filled 2010 book by Michelle Alexander titled “The New Jim Crow.” The book was read by members of the Monadnock Quaker Meeting and the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church. We began meeting together in January to see what we as citizens could do.

We toured the new Cheshire County Correctional Facility and searched the web for alternatives to jail, especially for persons with drug or mental health complications. Several of our members are working on understanding what legislative underpinning might be necessary to expand these programs to other courts in the state as only 10 out of 33 courts have such programs and there is no state funding. Some in the group have chosen to volunteer at Cheshire Correctional. Others are looking at employment issues for ex-offenders. We meet monthly over soup and bread and have called ourselves: Community Concerned for Justice.

Here in the Monadnock region there are three programs that are providing alternatives to jail for adults and children who come before the Keene and Sullivan County Courts, and whose crimes are related to substance use and mental health disorders. We have invited the directors of these programs to speak at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church at 25 Main St. on May 28 from 7 to 9 p.m. We welcome all in the community to attend.

Our speakers are: Michael Potter, director and case manager for the Cheshire County Alternative Sentence Program (District Drug Court Program) and Mental Health Court. He has advanced degrees in Guidance and Counseling with a concentration in substance use and mental health disorders. His program seeks to enhance justice and public safety, reduce recidivism, and to provide treatment opportunities. He has been with the program since its inception in 2001.

Janice Peterson, managing attorney, Cheshire and Sullivan Counties, New Hampshire Public Defender Program. Since 1994 she has been involved in developing community corrections programming, mental health courts, alternative sentencing programs and a drug court for felony level, high-risk, high-need offenders. Her legal practice has spanned clients from 9 years old to 89, the developmentally disabled to a client with a PhD; low-level vandalism to first-degree murder.

Elizabeth “LB” Brown, has been working for Keene Youth Services for 10 1/2 years focusing on juvenile justice. She is currently managing all the programs in Youth Services: Adolescent Brief Intervention Program, Juvenile Court Diversion Program, Earn-it and the Summer Youth Employment Program. She also supervises two websites: Mondanockparents.org and monadnockteens.org. She has earned a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in Substance Abuse.

These three speakers provide a wealth of experience in evaluation and treatment of vulnerable persons in our community. Their innovative programs have developed over the years to meet real needs so that people can return to family and community in positive ways. We hope that as soon as possible the other 23 courts, including Jaffrey, will have such programs. Save the date: Wednesday, 7 to 9 p.m. in the Parish Hall at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist church.

Julie Flood Page lives in Rindge. She is a member of the Community Concerned for Justice, a collaboration of Monadnock Quaker Meeting and the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church.

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