Measure Expands Substance Abuse Eligibility for Certain Offenders, Creates Phase-In Mandatory Enrollment in New Jersey
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senators Raymond J. Lesniak and Nicholas P. Scutari which expands eligibility for the State’s drug court substance abuse treatment program and creates a phased-in pilot program in which any offender who’s eligible would be automatically enrolled in drug court was signed into law today.
“Drug Court saved the life of one of the intruders who broke into my home and robbed me in the middle of the night three years ago, and the program made our community safer by giving him an opportunity to kick his drug habit and lead a productive, crime free life,” said Senator Lesniak, D-Union. “Unfortunately, his partner in crime was not eligible to receive the intensive treatment for his drug addiction provided by our drug courts because of prior offenses. The time that he served in jail was more costly and less likely to aid his recovery or lessen his likelihood of committing another crime. This law expands access to the life-saving, cost-saving and crime-preventing opportunities provided by our drug courts to thousands of criminal offenders struggling with drug addiction. Our communities will be safer and taxpayer costs will be saved as our prison population is reduced as a result.”
The new law expands the number of criminal offenders eligible for treatment for drug or alcohol addiction under supervision of the State’s drug court programs by removing some of the disqualifications currently in place for eligibility into those programs. Under the new law, two of the existing mandatory criteria for eligibility – that the offender in question have no more than one prior conviction of a second degree crime, and that the criminal offense in question was committed under the influence or to support drug or alcohol dependency – will be made permissive, rather than mandatory, and the current prohibition against more than one prior conviction for robbery will be eliminated. The result will be that courts will have more discretion in placing individuals in the drug court program. The measure additionally allows individuals currently serving a sentence of incarceration, or convicted and awaiting a sentence, to request that their eligibility for the drug court program be re-evaluated based on the new criteria.
“This law is about spending corrections dollars smarter, and allowing drug-addicted offenders to seek treatment, rather than incarceration,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union, Middlesex and Somerset. “The old criminal justice system failed far many offenders than it helped, and instead of putting the focus on reform and rehabilitation, the focus was on warehousing criminal offenders. This new law puts our priorities back in the right place, and ensures that folks who can be helped by the program will be directed to drug court.”
Finally, the law phases in the implementation of a program that will mandate access to special probation under drug court for any offender with a drug problem who is not disqualified from the drug court program under the revised criteria in the bill. The Administrative Director of the Courts will oversee the phase-in and will submit reports to the Governor and the Legislature, beginning the year after the effective date of the bill, tracking the completion and revocation rates for people admitted to drug court, as well as the recidivism rates of graduates, the costs associated with implementing mandatory drug court, and any other information that may indicate the efficacy of the program.
The law was approved by both houses of the Legislature in June.