Merrimack County jail superintendent discusses N.H. model with congressional task force

  • Congresswoman Annie Kuster hosted Merrimack County jail Supt. Ross Cunningham in DC for a roundtable on drug intervention programs. Kuster is the founder and co-chairman of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. —Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 11/7/2017 4:04:43 PM

Merrimack County jail Supt. Ross Cunningham joined Congresswoman Annie Kuster in Washington, D.C., on Monday for a roundtable discussion on drug intervention programs.

Members of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force, founded by Kuster, hosted the discussion, which also included input from Dr. Leana Wen, commissioner of health for the city of Baltimore, and Thomas Dellane, chief of the Stafford Township Police Department in New Jersey.

During the hour-long roundtable, Cunningham spoke about the modern corrections center taking shape at the former Merrimack County jail in Boscawen. The newly refurbished space will house an intensive program aimed at combating substance abuse, and provide support services, including 12 months of after care, to those re-entering the community after a period of incarceration.

When renovation of the now dormant jail into a transitional center is complete in early December, it will have 70 beds for 34 men and 36 women, all minimum-security inmates.

Cunningham, who arrived in Merrimack County in 2014, was behind a similar treatment model as superintendent in Sullivan County, where he simultaneously opened a community corrections center and began its programming.

In both counties, jail staff are partnering with community mental health providers to provide treatment; in Merrimack County, that provider is Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord.

If the model works as designed, Merrimack County has the potential to reduce its recidivism rate by 30 percent in one to three years, Cunningham previously told the Monitor.

“Opioid addiction and overdose pose a serious challenge in communities across New Hampshire, but we're making progress,” Cunningham said in a statement. “Thanks to the dedication and continuous hard work of my staff, we’re working to begin reducing recidivism rates, and bring essential services to those struggling with mental illness.”

Kuster, who is co-chairman of the task force, said Cunningham is an important resource to the task force because of his decades in law enforcement in New Hampshire and his extensive work in helping to improve access to medication assisted treatment for inmates combating addiction.

“I look forward to sharing his insights with other members of Congress as we work together to reduce the public health impact of addiction and overdose,” Kuster said.

The task force has more than 90 congressional members. It routinely holds hearings in D.C. and in communities impacted by the opioid crisis to educate lawmakers and develop solutions.

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