January 15, 2020
As Cheshire County jail Superintendent Richard Van Wickler has said, the biggest mental health facility in any community is the local jail. Jails are often the first places people with substance misuse disorder or a mental health issue come into contact with services funded by their town or city, from case managers to medication assisted treatment (MAT). Or, without services, jail could be the place where detox begins — often alone, on a cement floor. Jail time could be a pit stop on the route to a long prison stay, or a jump-start to a new beginning via an alternative sentencing program like drug court.
And, where you land matters. Each county-run jail has its own way of addressing the state’s ongoing behavioral health crises behind bars.
In past coverage as part of the Granite State News Collaborative, the Bar News has examined the justice system’s response to the state’s behavioral health crises. In those stories, we have explored the state’s alternative sentencing programs and the expansion of MAT behind bars.
Here, the final stories in the series revisit the progress of that expansion, the history behind the state’s system of county-run jails, and the variety of solutions that could support increasing numbers of inmates struggling with behavioral health challenges. We also follow five people across the state who have left jail or prison and are now putting pieces of their lives back together. With limited data to determine the outcomes of the many (often new) programs that inmates can access in jail or through the judicial branch, we turn to these former inmates to determine if — and — how these solutions are making a difference.
For more stories, data, and additional information, visit www.collaborativenh.org and find past coverage at www.nhbar.org/publications. These stories mark the close of the Collaborative’s 2019 behavioral health project, funded by the Solutions Journalism Network; stay tuned for a new project in 2020.
Editor of Publications
New Hampshire Bar Association