By a vote of 33-2, the New Jersey senate recently approved a measure that would make more drug offenders eligible for substance abuse programs.
The bill is designed to allow for drug addicts to truly get the help they need instead of being put behind bars and treated like convicted felons.
NJ Senator Ray Lesniak, who helped sponsor the bill, explained, “We need to understand that the current practice of incarcerating drug addicts does little to rehabilitate the individual, and may in fact only lead to a nonviolent offender becoming a violent offender later in life.”
He went on to say, “This bill is about spending our corrections budget smarter and putting the focus on addiction recovery rather than blind incarceration for offenders who are motivated by substance abuse.”
Senator Nick Scutari added, “Our current criminal justice system fails individuals who are addicted to drugs,” and he noted the need to rehabilitate, not punish, those who are addicted to illicit substances.
The proposed bill would expand the number of offenders eligible for treatment for drug or alcohol addiction under NJ’s drug court programs by removing some of the existing bars to eligibility.
This landmark bill would make two mandatory requirements only permissive, which would give judges much more latitude in determining who to put into rehabilitation programs.
The two mandatory requirements expected to be made permissive are: 1) having no more than one prior conviction for a first or second degree crime and 2) having the criminal offense in question be committed under the influence or in order to support drug or alcohol dependency (e.g. stealing to buy drugs).
Furthermore, the proposed law would let people currently serving a prison sentence, or those convicted and waiting to be sentenced, request a re-evaluation of their eligibility for NJ’s drug court program based on the new criteria.
Currently, the bill is on its way to the NJ Assembly. If approved, Governor Christie said that he plans to sign it into law.