Sullivan County Discontinues Youth Court Diversion Program

Newport, NH: Sullivan County will no longer host the region’s youth court diversion program as of July 1, 2017. The County took on court diversion and family services in March 2016 when they were terminated by Community Alliance of Human Services. At the time, the programs carried a 15-month capacity building grant that covered the majority of expenses. That $55,000 grant from the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention expires on June 30, 2017 and no new funds have been identified to continue the programs.

Outgoing County Manager Jessie Levine said that this was a tough decision for the County given that diversion services have been provided to about 50 area youth per year. Levine said that the annual cost of the program is about $75,000; in addition to the grant, user fees have accounted for about $10,000 in revenue and the County taxpayers pay about $20,000. With the termination of the grant, the County would need to cover almost the full cost of the program, which Levine said is not included in the proposed FY18 budget.

“When we compare the cost of this program to other County-funded services that help a greater number of people, it is hard to justify diversion as a budget priority for the County,” Levine said. Levine pointed to needs such as public transportation, soup kitchens and food pantries, mental health treatment, domestic violence prevention, and family counseling, to which the County contributes a total of about $200,000 per year. Levine said that the Lake Sunapee Area Mediation Program serves hundreds of residents per a year at a fraction of the cost of the diversion program.

NH state law allows judges and prosecutors to refer first-time offenders to court diversion programs, which are early intervention programs designed to reduce juvenile crime and recidivism by promoting positive youth development, substance abuse education, parental involvement, and youth accountability. There are 17 diversion programs in New Hampshire that make up the NH Juvenile Court Diversion Network.

Jeff Barrette, chair of the Sullivan County Board of Commissioners, said that the County took on  the program in 2016 with express intentions of reevaluating this year to determine its sustainability. He indicated recently that the program’s numbers were not meeting the County’s expectations and that there has not been a public outcry in support of the program.

Levine said that diversion services could continue if new funding or a new sponsor comes forward before the County’s budget is final in June.

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