Criminal Justice Reform

New Hampshire Governor Signs Bipartisan Legislation Establishing Statewide Drug Court Program

Another tool has been added to help fight New Hampshire’s drug crisis, as drug courts are about to be established across the Granite State.  Continuing her efforts to implement a comprehensive program to combat the opioid crisis and help save lives, Governor Maggie Hassan signed a bipartisan bill on June 14 establishing a statewide drug court program, a measure that she included in the comprehensive legislation she proposed last fall.  Senate Bill 464 (S.B. 464) establishes and permits more than $2 million in matching state grants for drug court programs at the county level, while also expanding existing ones.  In addition, S.B. 464 creates a statewide coordinator to work with the courts to help guarantee that best practices are implemented.  Drug courts take nonviolent and high-need offenders and put them into a program of treatment and accountability.

Stephanie Bergeron, the Interim CEO of Serenity Place, a non-profit drug treatment center in Manchester, NH, supports drug court programs.  “A well-managed access point to treatment, like a drug court, provides the opportunity for people to get the appropriate level of care that they need,” Bergeron said.

“By expanding existing drug courts and establishing new ones across the state, Senate Bill 464 is another important step forward in implementing our comprehensive approach to support law enforcement and strengthen prevention, treatment, and recovery programs,” the governor said.  In addition, Hassan believes this statewide approach to drug courts will help reduce crime and save taxpayer dollars, while helping people with addiction return to being productive members of society.

Saving taxpayer dollars is a central pillar of a public official’s duty, and given the overall criminal justice cost of opioid dependence is estimated to be $5.2 billion annually, measures that seek to reduce that cost are necessary, especially if such measures simultaneously reduce crime rates.  In addition, more than 50 percent of inmates meet medical criteria for drug dependence or abuse[1] and up to one-third of all heroin users pass through the criminal justice system annually.[2]  Thus, treatment programs are absolutely crucial to helping those battle drug addiction.

The ALEC model Resolution on Diversion of Low-Level Drug Possession Offenders urges states to “adopt policies that promote the diversion of low-level drug possession offenders from prison and into alternatives such as drug courts and drug treatment programs.”  In addition, the ALEC model Resolution in Support of Evidence-based Medical Treatment for Substance Use Disorders states, “Substance use disorders often lead to a revolving door of arrest, incarceration, release to the streets untreated or undertreated, followed by rearrest and return to incarceration.”  Therefore, such treatment programs should be more readily available to break this cycle.  ALEC hopes other states will follow New Hampshire’s lead in expanding drug court programs, as they have been effective in reducing incarceration costs and rehabilitating those in need of substance abuse treatment.

[1] Josiah Rich, Sarah Wakeman, and Samuel Dickman. “Medicine and the Epidemic of Incarceration in the United States.” The New England Journal of Medicine. 2 June 2011. Page 2. Print.

[2] Id.


In Depth: Criminal Justice Reform

The American Legislative Exchange Council is proud to be a leader on criminal justice reforms in the states. Since 2008, the ALEC task force on criminal justice reform, called the Justice Performance Project, has brought state legislators and stakeholders together to combat the trend of unforgiving and harsh criminal laws.

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