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Drug court orders treatment, not jail

Program will save the state money

DOVER, N.H. -- Strafford County has launched a special ''drug court" that will send people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes to outpatient treatment instead of jail.

Nine people -- six women and three men -- were sentenced in Strafford County Superior Court on Thursday to one year of treatment after they listened to graduates of the drug court pilot project.

''My life has completely made a turnaround because of this program," graduate Nathan Lavigne said after he received a medallion, a certificate of completion, and a gift certificate from Judge Bruce Mohl, who started the project.

Of the 11 candidates for the first official class, nine agreed to plea deals requiring them to go through the tough treatment program, one decided against it, and another was unable to attend court.

Mohl said the special court will cut the number of addiction-related crimes and eventually save the county money, because fewer people will go to jail.

''We know from our own history that sending drug addicts to jail for six months to a year, and then sending them out on the street just means you will see them again in six months," he said. ''This is an attempt to break that cycle."

Under the program, county prosecutors and the public defender work with the judge to identify candidates. Participants agree to undergo treatment for a year and must appear before the judge once a week during the initial phase.

Mohl said that many experts think those conversations with the judge and the guilt participants feel if they fail to follow any part of the program contribute to the success of such drug courts, which have been established in other states.

However, Mohl said he thinks that for many participants, a desire to succeed provides more motivation than fear of failure.

''They are so proud that they have been successful, it's almost like they're glowing. In a lot of cases they haven't been successful in anything they have done," Mohl said.

In September, the drug court landed a federal grant for $450,000 over three years.

Mohl said treatment funds from the Governor's Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention also are vital to the program's success: $100,000 for the first half of this year and up to $200,000 per year going forward.

The state funds go directly to Southeastern New Hampshire Services, which is under contract to provide the treatment.

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