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Lesniak Drug Court Bill Approved In Committee

Measure Would Expand Substance Abuse Eligibility for Certain Offenders, Create Pilot Program for Mandatory Enrollment in Two Counties within NJ

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Raymond J. Lesniak which would expand eligibility for the State’s drug court substance abuse treatment program and create a pilot program in two counties in which anyone who’s eligible would be automatically enrolled in a drug treatment program was unanimously approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.

The Senator issued the following testimony at the Committee meeting, in which he sat as an alternate member of the Committee:

“S-881 will expand the number of criminal offenders eligible for treatment for their drug or alcohol addiction under supervision of our counties’ drug courts by removing some of the disqualifications in current law and by creating a two-county pilot program wherein all eligible offenders would be required to participate in the recovery program.

“Under current law, robbery offenders are ineligible for treatment in lieu of prison. When I was robbed, April 18, 2009, it took creative discretion by the Union County Prosecutor, who, at my request, made Brian Kinney eligible to receive treatment for his addiction in place of continuing his life of crime to which most addict criminals resort, unless given an opportunity to participate in Drug Court’s vigorous, supervised treatment program.

“S-881 makes robbery offenders like Brian eligible as well as his partner, Antoine Neal, whose words, ‘Shoot him,’ were the first I heard when he and Brian were standing over my bed at 2 o’clock in the morning. Antoine had a prior 2nd degree crime conviction which made him ineligible. Antoine has recently been released from prison but his chance of committing another crime against another victim and of returning to prison is much higher than Brian’s. S-881 would substantially reduce the chance of repeat offenses by drug and alcohol addicts and provide better safety for our residents.

“In addition, S-881 directs the AOC (Administrative Office of the Courts) to establish two pilot programs, one in the North and one in the South, for mandatory participation in Drug Court treatment in lieu of prison. Governor Christie recently called for mandatory participation, but we have to be careful with this initiative. Of most concern is that those forced into treatment would poison the well for those choosing to recover from their addiction. Recovery programs rely heavily on the group dynamic which could be adversely affected by those forced to participate.

“The added cost, without knowing its effectiveness and the capacity of treatment centers is also a concern. Statewide mandatory participation would double the number in the program, requiring an additional $25 – $35 million and an increase in capacity for 1,600 additional participants. Also, there is nowhere near the number of treatment facilities and professionals needed to handle this number of additional participants.

“Establishing pilot programs will tell us if mandatory participation is an effective use of the Drug Court program and allow for the expansion of treatment facilities.

“As it is, based on numbers provided by the AOC, S-881 will require that the Senate Budget Committee appropriate $8 million to the Governor’s budget for the expanded eligibility and pilot program, but the long term savings in dollars is tens of millions and the savings of lives, both of victims and their offenders, is priceless.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.

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