Drug courts offer hope for addicts

Program is cheaper than incarceration

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, June 15, 2016 7:0PM
Establishment of drug courts:1989: First drug court established in the United States in Miami-Dade County in Florida2003: Strafford County Superior Court 2007: Grafton County Superior Court2010:Rockingham County Superior Court2013: Cheshire County Superio

On Tuesday, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed into law a bill that will help establish drug courts in superior courts across the state.

“The heroin and opioid crisis is the most pressing public health and public safety challenge facing our state, and drug courts are an important tool in helping those battling addiction access treatment and recovery services,” Hassan said.

While the Cheshire County Superior Court and the North Hillsborough County Superior Court in Nashua already have a drug court, South Hillsborough Superior Court has yet to establish one.

Under the new law, a grant program will pay for the cost of setting up drug courts in counties that have yet to establish them. The law appropriates up to $1.1 million this year and up to $1.9 million next year for grants and administrative costs.

To be eligible for the grants, courts must first have applied for a federal or other nonprofit grant specific to assisting in establishing drug courts.

The law also establishes a committee that will review the drug court’s efficacy and to determine whether the grant program will continue after 2017.

“That would be very difficult, because those programs would disappear without that funding, unless the county decided to take on the cost,” said Alex Casale, the director of the Strafford County Drug Court, who in July will take the position as the statewide drug offender program coordinator.

Casale said funding these programs is better in the long run for the state because drug courts are cheaper than the cost of incarceration and graduates of the program are less likely to reoffend, lowering crime and overall costs to the state and counties.

“In the future you’re looking at less crime, less need for new prisons, less cost of insurance because your house didn’t get broken into, and so on. You can’t say how much was saved because someone who graduated from the program didn’t commit a burglary down the road,” said Casale.

What are drug courts?

Adult drug courts work hand-in-hand with existing judicial systems to address non-violent crimes associated with drug use.

In exchange for a suspended sentence, eligible defendants plead guilty to the charges and enroll in the program where they have to follow certain guidelines, including treatment, drug testing and regular check-ins with the court. Defendants can stay in the drug court program for a year to two years. If they fail to follow the guidelines, their original sentence can be imposed.

“I think it’s great, because it’s another approach,” said Dennis Calcutt, project manager for the Monadnock Region System of Care Planning grant and a member of the Be the Change behavioral health task force. “I think with these issues you need to find lots of things that are going to work with some segment of the population. With some people, a faith-based program may work. With some people, this may work.”

“Drug courts are a harm reduction model, and they’re effective,” said Mary Drew, director of the Monadnock Alcohol & Drug Abuse Coalition. “They’re good to have as part of a bigger, comprehensive plan, which is what this problem really needs.”

As part of the Monadnock Alcohol & Drug Abuse Coalition, Drew said she has had interactions with graduates and participants of drug courts. One of the key points she would like to see addressed is continued recovery after graduating from the drug court system. What would be most effective, she said, is to close the circle in the continuum of care from recovery to prevention, by involving those in recovery with preventative education and in supporting other people in recovery.

“They could make an impact and be part of the solution, and it becomes part of the relapse prevention for them as well,” said Drew.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.