Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Should NJ's Expansion of Drug Courts Include Municipal Courts?

Governor Chris Christie wants to expand the reach of New Jersey’s drug courts. His plan calls for increased identification of eligible participants; court-ordered clinical assessments to determine their suitability for the program; and mandatory participation for those the court rules are suitable. Court’s would have to consider the patient’s cooperation favorably when handing down a sentence. While the state sets up the program, Christie said he will give the 1,000 to 1,500 non-violent drug offenders currently in the state prison system the option to participate immediately.  New Jersey's drug courts are only available to offenders facing a Superior Court charge. Unfortunately, Gov. Christie’s new plan, at least for now, doesn’t appear to expand the program to the Municipal Court setting. The services available through the drug court program, in particular state-contracted drug treatment slots, would benefit the thousands of offenders that pass through New Jersey’s municipal courts. For example, in Newark Community Solutions first year of operations, 64% of participants self-reported a prior arrest for a drug-related matter. Most lack health insurance or are ineligible for the public benefits that would help defray the cost of treatment.