Diverts Combat Veterans Away from Criminal Justice System
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew to create a “Statewide Veterans Diversion Program” aimed at helping veterans and active military who have committed nonviolent offenses by diverting them away from the criminal justice system and into treatment was approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“Too many soldiers and veterans end up in the criminal justice system as a result of invisible wounds they suffer related to their service in combat. These men and women need treatment, not punishment,” said Senator Van Drew (D-Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic). “Instead of sending them to jail, this creates a diversion program in each county to provide eligible individuals with the resources 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 service members who have served in any combat theater or area of hostility with a prior diagnosis of service-related mental illness or for whom a law enforcement officer or prosecutor has a reasonable belief has a mental illness based on behaviors and symptoms 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 persons offense, a disorderly persons offense, or crime of the fourth degree. The program would create diversion and referral services in each county, through a Veterans Diversion Resource Center, which would provide for screening, counseling, treatment and case management for mental health issues and other co-occurring health disorders as well as coordination of services with appropriate federal, state or local agencies offering services to veterans.
“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 will ensure that combat veterans, who have found themselves headed down the wrong path, are given treatment and a second chance.”
The bill next heads to the full Senate for consideration.