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Judge reports drug court up and running

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 18. 2017 1:35AM

MANCHESTER — The long-awaited drug court for northern Hillsborough County is open, with 11 individuals participating in the program and more expected in the coming weeks.

The county has a drug court in Nashua, but efforts to establish one in Manchester stalled until state legislators approved a bipartisan bill in June 2016 to establish a statewide drug court system to help in the fight against the opioid epidemic.

Judge Kenneth Brown told members of the Aldermanic Committee on Alcohol, Other Drugs and Youth Services on Tuesday Manchester’s drug court heard its first case about five weeks ago at the Hillsborough County Superior Court-North courthouse.

“I am very pleased so far,” said Brown.

Brown is the presiding judge for the drug court, a supervised program that provides treatment and recovery alternatives for certain offenders who would otherwise be facing lengthy jail or even prison time.

Eligible participants plead guilty to the offense, then are placed on probation while they attempt to complete the program and any aftercare recommendations.

Before coming to the Manchester location, Brown presided over the Dover drug court program.

“I think it’s safe to say the Dover program is a very successful program,” said Brown. “I see no reason why the Manchester drug court can’t be as successful as Dover. The team is working very hard.”

Alex Casale was hired in July as coordinator to the statewide system. Casale worked as a case manager and coordinator in Strafford County Drug Court and is helping other interested counties in the state go through the startup process, which became much more simplified once the law providing funding went in place in June. Casale said Merrimack County should be the next participant in the statewide program.

Alderman at Large Dan O’Neil asked Brown if there was anything the city could do to help, specifically in the area of connecting participants with jobs in Manchester.

“We like them to find a job on their own if possible,” said Brown. “In Dover, we had several businesses such as Dunkin’ Donuts who would hire our participants. We’re just not at that point yet in Manchester.”

“It’s not something where we want to just hand them a job,” said Casale. “We would prefer they go out and get an interview, because those are life skills.”

Aldermen said they would work to put together a list of potential employers to work with the drug court program.

“I think of the colleges, I think of the hospitals,” said O’Neil. “I think this is something where we as elected officials can help out.”

Brown said one hurdle that needs to be cleared is working with employers to encourage them to hire drug court participants, despite their record.

“We can say to employers these individuals are drug tested two or three times a week,” said Brown. “They are monitored more than any other employees out there.”

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