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Gov. Chris Sununu signs juvenile diversion legislation into law

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Courtesy via New Hampshire Bulletin
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Gov. Chris Sununu, shown here in a file photo, signed Senate Bill 94 into law on Monday.

A new state law will make it easier for juveniles suspected of violating the law to get mental health treatment and other supports instead of being taken into custody and court.

This story was originally published in New Hampshire Bulletin.

Senate Bill 94, signed by Gov. Chris Sununu Monday, allows police officers and juvenile probation and parole officers to refer a minor to the state Department of Health and Human Services for a needs assessment without first taking them into custody and initiating law enforcement proceedings. Officers can still take minors into custody without first making a referral, but if they are contemplating initiating court proceedings, they or the prosecutor must still refer the juvenile to the department for a needs assessment within two days of arrest.

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If the state obtains the consent of the minor and the minor’s parent or guardian to do a needs assessment, it must complete the assessment within 30 days and provide its report and findings to the minor and the minor’s parent, guardian, and attorney, as well as the referring agency. That report must include the department’s recommendations about whether to file a juvenile delinquency petition and recommendations for supports and services.

If an assessment reveals that a minor has complex behavioral needs or is at risk of residential, hospital, or secure placement, the state must refer the child and the family to the FAST Forward program, which provides community-based treatment and support for children and their families.

Getting this law passed was a personal endeavor for Rep. Cody Belanger, an Epping Republican who joined Sen. Sharon Carson, a Londonderry Republican, as a co-sponsor. Belanger grew up in the juvenile justice system, spending time at the Sununu Youth Services Center and its predecessor, the Youth Development Center, as well as in foster homes.

“They say the makeup of a successful child is a positive role model in their life,” Belanger said. “This gives them that chance.” He added that having those role models made a difference in his life.

“I finally realized that I wanted to take better care of myself,” he said. “And I told myself that I can sit around and mope, or I can help these kids who are just like me get off and running.”

New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: info@newhampshirebulletin.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.