Assembly Considering New Jersey Drug Court Program for Nonviolent Offenders
The New Jersey Assembly will soon determine whether nonviolent drug offenders should be sentenced to the New Jersey drug court program rather than sent to prison. The measure overwhelmingly passed the Senate and passed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee on a 9-0 vote this week. It appears that Governor Chris Christie also supports the bill.
According to Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, “Imprisonment is a costly solution, and too often with nonviolent drug offenders, it is not a solution at all. Many of these individuals are leaving prison worse off than they entered it.”
While the program would cost $20 million to run, it would be less expensive than the current cost of putting nonviolent drug offenders in prison. It would also lead to recovery for many individuals charged with drug crimes.
Figures from New Jersey’s Department of Corrections show that 54 percent of drug offenders who served prison sentences reoffended, while only 15 percent of those sentenced to a drug court program reoffended. Of course, those numbers could reflect the severity of the offenses that landed people to prison versus the drug court program, but the vast difference is intriguing.
Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, one of the bill’s sponsors, stated, “Giving criminal offenders an opportunity at a second chance at a crime-free life is a moral and responsible thing to do.” His co-sponsor Nicholas P. Scutari added, “Our current criminal justice system fails individuals who are addicted to drugs.”
This could be a positive step forward for defendants facing drug crime charges. However, it is not yet a leap forward. The bill creates a two-year pilot program that would require this form of probation in two areas in New Jersey. Certain offenders would be disqualified from the program. Only after studies determining the effectiveness of the program could the program be rolled out to the larger New Jersey population.
Of course, any criminal conviction is a scar on someone’s record no matter how severe the immediate consequences. Therefore, even if a mandatory drug court program takes effect in New Jersey, it is still vital to defend against your charges with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.
Source: NECN.com, “NJ panel approves mandatory drug treatment bill” June 18, 2012.