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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Nashua drug court to kick off, whether federal funds arrive or not

NASHUA – The first participants in a new drug court will begin the 18- to 24-month program by the end of this month – months before any federal money arrives, if it ever will.

Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn said the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center has agreed to provide free drug treatment to a small number of people beginning this month while officials in Nashua and Manchester wait to hear the fate of grant proposals submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice that would fully fund two drug courts for three years. ...

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NASHUA – The first participants in a new drug court will begin the 18- to 24-month program by the end of this month – months before any federal money arrives, if it ever will.

Hillsborough County Superior Court Judge Jacalyn Colburn said the Greater Nashua Mental Health Center has agreed to provide free drug treatment to a small number of people beginning this month while officials in Nashua and Manchester wait to hear the fate of grant proposals submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice that would fully fund two drug courts for three years.

Colburn said she has identified five criminal defendants who may qualify for the program, which targets high-risk users facing prison time and shunts them into court-ordered treatment programs. A team of experts – including a prosecutor and public defender, a treatment expert from GNMHC and a probation and parole officer – will administer a series of screenings. Those defendants who qualify, and volunteer, will have their prison sentences suspended and be ordered into treatment.

In the 25 years since the country’s first drug court opened in Miami, research has shown that the courts are vastly better at reducing recidivism than traditional criminal courts and incarceration, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Officials at the two branches of county court are hoping the DOJ will approve grants totaling $700,000 over three years that would allow them to accept up to 80 participants beginning this fall.

Colburn echoed many other law and judicial officials’ views that locking up drug addicts simply doesn’t work and costs millions.

“The heroin epidemic in this city is out of control –
out of control,” Colburn said. “This drug epidemic is a problem that we cannot arrest and incarcerate our way out of. We just can’t. It’s just a fact. We need to do something that turns the tide.”

Nashua Police Chief John Seusing has asked city leaders to increase the police budget so he can hire more narcotics detectives. On Monday, he told aldermen there have already been more drug overdoses in the city this year than in all of 2013.

Drug courts differ from traditional courts in that they create alternative sentences for highly addicted people who are at a high risk to offend again.

That also differs from other diversion courts, such as mental health courts, which accept only low-level offenders.

Drug courts also target offenders who have no other access to treatment programs, but they don’t accept violent criminals or casual users.

Instead of going to jail, a drug court defendant would be subjected to a court-ordered regimen of treatment, weekly one-on-one and group therapy sessions, frequent and random drug tests, work or school requirements and weekly meetings with a judge, said Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau, a strong proponent of the courts.

Colburn said once the courts are fully funded, she expects she will spend half a day a week working with drug court clients.

“We have a huge need, and I figure we can’t go wrong,” she said. “We have got to do something else. We have to find a better way.”

Three drug courts are already open in Rockingham, Grafton and Strafford counties.

Hillsborough County officials have been working toward opening the twin drug courts for more than a year. A large part of the delay was because of sequestration that froze the federal grant money that would fund the courts. Most of the grant money pays for treatment.

Joseph G. Cote can be reached
at 594-6415 or jcote@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Cote
on Twitter (@Telegraph_JoeC).