Trenton – The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation today sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz and Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, which would establish a first of its kind statewide mental health diversion court initiative, in an effort to prevent individuals with serious mental health disorders from entering the carceral system.
“People with mental illness are ten times more likely to end up in jail than in a hospital, according to a 2022 National Judicial Task Force report. Today, New Jersey takes a significant transformative step to address mental health by creating a structure that is built upon compassion and restorative justice principles,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “With this legislation, in collaboration with the Attorney General and the Administrative Office of the Courts, we reaffirm New Jersey’s commitment to empower and provide critical lifesaving wrap around services to those battling mental health disorders. This legislation is deliberate and takes into account other models used throughout the state with the intent to codify and expand these services, at the discretion of the Attorney General. Together we will break the stigma around mental health and will foster a more empathetic approach, forging a path forward towards healing and justice for all in this state.”
The bill, S-524, would establish mental health diversion courts in three high-need vicinages in the north, central and south parts of New Jersey. Under the bill, each vicinage would consist of a team working together which would include prosecutors, superior court judges and a mental health diversion team which would consist of legal professionals and licensed mental health specialists.
The bill was released from committee by a vote of 6-0.