TRENTON � The Senate gave final legislative approval today to legislation sponsored by Senators John H. Adler and Shirley K. Turner that would make changes to the State�s Drug Court program to allow more drug offenders to seek treatment for addiction.
�Drug courts distinguish between people who need treatment and people who belong in jail,� said Senator Adler, D-Cherry Hill and Chair of the Committee. �We should make sure sick people get the help they need and save our prison space for real criminals.�
The Senators� bill, S-233/504, would implement the recommendations of the New Jersey Commission to Review Criminal Sentencing to amend the special probation statute that governs drug courts. Specifically, the bill would amend the special probation statute to expand eligibility for the program, authorize out-patient treatment under certain circumstances, and permit courts to reduce drug enforcement and demand reduction (DEDR) fines under certain circumstances.
�The drug courts� success lies in its ability to treat the disease that lies at the core of an individual�s criminal behavior,� explained Senator Turner, D-Mercer. �Addiction is at the root of so many crimes � from drug possession and distribution to larceny and violent crimes. When we end the addiction, we end those crimes and make our communities safer.�
Senator Adler added, �The proof is in the results. The drug courts� treatment program has been found to be four times more effective than jail in preventing repeat offenses. At the same time it costs less, which is more than welcome in these tough financial times.�
The bill would make four changes to the current law. First, it would amend eligibility criteria to clarify that there are two tracks to getting into the special probation program and to bar a person from drug court where they have two or more convictions for a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree crime if at least one of the prior convictions is a 1st or 2nd degree crime, but allow them to participate if that person has two or more prior 3rd degree convictions, subject to the prosecutor�s veto.
Second, the bill would amend treatment conditions to eliminate the requirement that a person who receives special probation be sentenced to a period of inpatient treatment for six months and replaces it with judicial discretion to determine whether placement should be residential or nonresidential after a substance abuse evaluation.
�Our goal should be to get as many drug offenders as possible into the drug courts� treatment programs,� explained Senator Turner. �To effectively do this, the system needs to be more flexible � so that prosecutors can move more cases into the drug court system when appropriate and that judges can utilize outpatient treatment for those people with less severe addictions.�
Third, the bill would amend discharge provisions to provide for early discharge from the 5-year special probation term if the person makes exemplary progress in the course of treatment, upon recommendation of the supervising probation officer or court�s own motion if the person: 1) has satisfactorily completed the treatment program; 2) has served at least two years of special probation; 3) did not commit a substantial violation of special probation within the preceding 12 months; and 4) is not likely to relapse or commit an offense if probation supervision and related services are discontinued.
Finally, the bill would amend penalty provisions to allow the court to reduce the DEDR fines by 50% if the offender completes the program and, in cases where the collection of the penalty will cause extreme financial hardship, reduce it by up to another 50%.
According to the sponsors, the changes to the drug court program outlined in this bill would expand the program by a third, allowing about 400 more people to participate in the program each year.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 28-10 and now goes to the Governor�s desk for his signature.