Non-Violent Drug Offenders to Get Treatment, Not Jail Time
Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill into law July 19. In the next five years, it should save money and provide the help, rather than jail time, that non-violent addicts need.
Throughout the next five years, New Jersey will phase in a new law designed to lower taxpayer costs by providing mandatory drug treatment instead of prison time for non-violent offenders.
The legislation S-881/A-2883 could offer a significant financial savings as well, according to a press release from New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39).
Moving some 7,000 non-violent drug offenders currently housed in the New Jersey prison system into treatment programs could lower the estimated annual cost of keeping them of the streets from $49,000 per inmate to somewhere between $11,000 and $22,000.
In a statement accompanying the release, Schepisi called the law "a life-changing opportunity" for addiction sufferers and those harmed by their actions.
“While we cannot measure the compassion of such a program in dollars and cents, offering help to those in need is a benchmark of our society,” she said.
The terms of the law require a defendant in the New Jersey court system to submit to diagnostic assessment if the court has "a reasonable basis to believe that the defendant may be drug dependent," the release read.
If the defendent is deteremined to be drug-dependent and meets the eligibility criteria of the New Jersey Drug Court program, "the court must sentence the defendant to drug court regardless of whether the defendant has sought or consents to such a sentence," the release read.
"Instead of being stuck in a prison cell with little hope of rehabilitation, it’s a positive, compassionate approach to helping the addicted on the road to recovery," Schepisi said in the release.
Such a bill may have helped someone like Michael Richards and his Collingswood neighbors interrupt a cycle of theft and burglary that persisted until his eventual arrest in late June.
Richards' girlfriend Amanda Dougherty told Patch earlier this month that it wasn't until he was incarcerated and given access to rehabilitative counseling programs that the father of her two children could think about turning the corner on his problems.
“He said [jail] is good for him; [that] this is what he needs,” Dougherty said. “He’s a good father when he’s sober."