TRENTON – The Assembly unanimously passed bill S881, which would allow more people to be eligible for drug court by giving judges additional discretion in choosing who can be admitted into the program.
The bill calls for establishing a two-year pilot program for mandatory admission to drug court for certain offenders.
“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,” said Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “The voluntary drug court program in New Jersey has had great success. Expanding the program will help us avoid the expense of incarceration and get these individuals on the right path to recovery.”
The bill would phase in mandatory drug court for nonviolent offenders over a 5-year period. Currently, participation in the drug court program is voluntary. The program will be phased in, in at least three vicinages to be determined by the Administrative Office of the Courts in the first year. Under the bill, the courts would have to evaluate the program’s effectiveness annually for the duration of the phase-in period (including studying recidivism rates, costs and comparisons of counties where the mandatory program has been implemented in comparison with those where it has not been phased in).
The governor has proposed expanding the drug court program statewide. The governor’s proposed budget appropriates just $2.5 million to drug courts, but according to the Administrative Office of the Courts, a statewide drug court program would cost nearly $20 million to administer.