New Jersey mandatory drug treatment targets non-violent offenders

Three counties in New Jersey will benefit from a $2.5 million dollar pilot program signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie in July. The counties, which have not been publicly named, will initiate mandatory treatment for all low-level drug offenders and non-violent offenders addicted to drugs.

The idea behind the mandatory treatment program is to reduce incarceration costs while assisting people who are addicted to drugs. Drug treatment programs in New Jersey save taxpayers over $30,000 per participant although some estimates have been higher. The governor was initially asking for a program to be set up in every county but agreed to launch the program with three and then expand it gradually into other counties over the next five years.

Support from the Office of the Public Defender

The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender is a strong promoter of using drug court in place of incarceration for non-violent offenders. People who face drug charges often acquire an addiction because of poor choices, lack of education and environment.

Instead of incarcerating non-violent offenders and then releasing them back into a toxic environment that potentially increases the chance to repeat former behavior, it would be more beneficial to those with addiction problems and the community to put non-violent offenders who face drug charges through a criminal justice process that includes drug treatment.

It is unknown whether the Public Defender’s office supported Gov. Christie’s mandatory pilot program.

Effectiveness of drug courts in New Jersey

Drug courts consist of a team of judges, treatment providers, criminal defense attorneys, corrections officers, substance abuse professionals and prosecutors. These team members work together, providing a number of services that track the progress of participants and establishes an environment that is non-confrontational, encouraging, supportive, but also has consequences.

Participants of New Jersey drug courts are required to adhere to a strict regimen that includes frequent drug testing, appearances in court to report progress and attendance of appropriate treatment facilities. If participants are unable to follow the requirements of drug court, the court has the option to reinstate criminal proceedings.

From its creation, New Jersey’s adult drug court program has experienced great success. The latest statistics from 2013 include the following highlights:

2,951 people have graduated from drug courts since its full inception in 2002.
68 percent of people actively participating are working full-time.
90 percent of people were working full-time at the time of their graduation.
Recidivism rate for all graduates from the drug treatment program is eight percent.
The numbers seem to indicate that the funds set aside for these programs have been used well.

Praise for New Jersey from others

In 2011, two watchdog groups released reports praising New Jersey for giving people an alternative to incarceration. The groups pointed out that drug court programs in other states try to boost their success rate by not allowing serious drug users to participate. Instead of helping those who may need the most help, these states focused on people who used drugs for recreation. Drug courts in New Jersey, on the other hand, consistently focus on low-level drug offenders with serious addictions.

If you face drug charges in New Jersey, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and guide you to your best path forward.