TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew to create a “Statewide Veterans Diversion Program” aimed at helping nonviolent offenders who are veterans or active military and diverting them away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate case management and treatment was approved today by the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“Military servicemen and women, as well as veterans, often end up in the criminal justice system as a result of invisible wounds they suffer related to their service,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic). “Given all they have done for our country, it is our responsibility to provide these individuals with the assistance and treatment they need to get on their feet and live as productive members of society.”
Under the bill, S-307, those eligible for the “Veterans Diversion Program” would be veterans or active military service members with a prior diagnosis of service-related mental illness or for whom a law enforcement officer or prosecutor has a significant belief has a mental illness based on behaviors exhibited during the commission of the offense, while in custody, or based on information provided by family members or associates during the investigation. Active duty members include members of the National Guard and Reserve components, who have served on active military duty in any combat theater or area of hostility.
The diversion program would be available to defendants charged with the commission of a nonviolent petty disorderly person’s offense, a disorderly person’s offense, or crime of the fourth degree. The program would create diversion and referral services in each county, which would provide for screening, counseling, treatment and case management for mental health issues and other co-occurring health disorders as well as referrals to appropriate services.
“We cannot allow soldiers and veterans to face the challenges they encounter during and after their service on their own, particularly when they are issues that require mental health or related treatment,” added Senator Van Drew. “Rather than allowing them to fall into the criminal justice system, this program will give us an opportunity to provide the necessary services to lead those facing minor charges toward a healthy and productive life.”
The committee approved the bill by a vote of 4-0. It next heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.