Courts administrator: Despite unknown costs, drug court expansion needed

TRENTON – New Jersey’s Judiciary cleared 7 million cases last year using 500 fewer personnel and while dealing with 50 to 55 judicial vacancies, the court system’s acting administrator told the Senate Budget Committee today.

Judge Glenn Grant, while touting successes such as the drug court program that debuted in New Jersey in 1995 (and which Gov. Christie wants to expand), also said that the increased use of computer technology will be key to the Judiciary’s success in years to come.

However, in response to questions from committee Chairman Sen. Paul Sarlo, (D-36), Wood-Ridge, Grant acknowledged that they do not yet know how much it will cost to attain the governor’s goal of expanding drug court from a voluntary program to a mandatory program in all 21 counties.

Sarlo said the proposal of $2.5 million does not seem realistic, and Grant talked of that as being essentially seed money while the state uses a one-year lead time to assess how much it will cost, how much it will take to ensure facilities have capacity, and how many defendants will be involved.

Since 2002, Grant told the panel, drug court has diverted 11,329 defendants from prison. That has led to a savings of $23 million in fiscal year 2011, $24 million in fiscal year 2012 and a projected $24 million in fiscal year 2013.

Grant talked of the societal benefits as well.

“Reunited families, drug-free babies, employment, health insurance, driver’s licenses for former addicts, child support payments made, nearly $5.4 million in fees and fines paid and lives broken free from the cycle of addiction and crime. These are the true benefits of bringing drug offenders back into society,’’ Grant said.

In response to a question regarding the re-arrest rates of those on probation, Grant said that the rearrest rate of more than 2,500 drug court graduates is 11 percent, while the rearrest rate of other inmates who did not go through drug court is 54 percent.

Grant said that over the next year, the courts will work extensively with the Administration and the Legislature on expanding the drug court program.

The proposed fiscal year 2013 appropriation for Judiciary is $672,981, an increase over the estimated fiscal year 2012 figure of $670,481. The fiscal year 2011 budget was $637,503.