AG Platkin Announces Launch of Program to Assist Non-Violent Offenders Overcoming Substance Use Disorder in Paterson

For Immediate Release: November 9, 2023

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General

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PATERSON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin, Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes, and Officer in Charge Isa Abbassi, today announced that the Opt for Help and Hope initiative is now operational in Paterson and Paterson Police Officers have been trained to screen people who are arrested for eligibility into the program. Opt for Help and Hope is a prosecutor-led diversion program that offers people who commit low-level, non-violent crimes the opportunity to overcome substance use disorder. Paterson is the first of six New Jersey cities to launch this pilot program.

The Opt for Help and Hope initiative is being funded with proceeds from the Attorney General’s settlement with consulting firm McKinsey and Company, which was allegedly involved in the false advertisement of opioid products, and is being administered under the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES). The voluntary program will offer early intervention for defendants whose offenses are non-violent and believed to be related to substance use, and connect them with recovery resources and support services.

The goal is to minimize the impact that arrests and convictions can have on the stability needed to sustain recovery. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office has partnered with Prevention is Key, Inc., to provide peer recovery specialists who will meet with eligible defendants and assist them in receiving a clinical assessment and services from community-based treatment providers. Successful participants who enter the program and meaningfully engage in recommended services will be eligible to have their municipal charges dismissed.

“People who are dependent on narcotics or other substances and commit non-violent crimes need help, not a criminal record that can interfere with their chances of recovering from the disease of addiction,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Paterson is the perfect place to start this program. We ask our officers to treat the people they encounter in their day the same way they would expect another officer to treat a member of their family, and through this we can offer compassion over incarceration for those who want to begin their recovery journey and reclaim their lives.”

Opt for Help and Hope is the first statewide initiative focused on offering support services for substance use disorder to municipal court defendants. The program will help Paterson residents experiencing a substance use disorder before their drug-related conduct potentially escalates to more serious crimes and charges. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office was awarded base funding of $333,333 to implement the program in Paterson Municipal Court.

“Opt for Help and Hope will provide early intervention, screening, and services at the Paterson municipal court level for individuals on the path to recovery,” said Passaic County Prosecutor Valdes. “For many, the first entry point into the criminal justice system occurs at the municipal court level. Therefore, it is imperative for all stakeholders to participate sooner rather than later in the restorative process. The Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office is looking forward to the successful implementation of Opt for Help and Hope to provide Paterson residents the necessary support systems to overcome the strong hold of addiction.”

“Police officers are often on the front lines of many crises in the community, including helping people with substance use disorder issues,” said Officer in Charge Abbassi. “This program will offer another tool for them when interacting with someone dealing with addiction to get them the help they need with the hopes of them not offending again.”

Opt for Hope and Help will also be implemented in five other municipal courts which have been selected based on an assessment of existing drug-related data and resources. They include:

  • Central Municipal Court of Atlantic County (participating municipalities include Corbin City, Egg Harbor Township, Estell Manor, Galloway Township, Hamilton Township, Linwood, Northfield, Port Republic, Ventnor, and Weymouth Township)
  • Pemberton Municipal Court
  • East Orange Municipal Court
  • Hamilton Township Municipal Court
  • Franklin Township Municipal Court

“Since we announced funding for the Opt for Help and Hope program last November, NJ CARES has been working with each of the six selected County Prosecutor’s Offices to assist them in the development of their prosecutor-led diversion programs,” said Kelly E. Levy, Acting Director of NJ CARES. “I am pleased to see all the hard work of the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office culminate in the launch of their Opt for Help and Hope program and look forward to seeing the other prosecutor’s offices follow their lead, bringing resources for substance use disorder to the most at-risk municipal court defendants.”

Through its investigations and lawsuits against companies involved in misconduct relating to the manufacture, distribution, dispensation, and advertising of opioid drug products, the Office of the Attorney General anticipates receiving over $1 billion to help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic in New Jersey. Opt for Help and Hope is one of the first programs to be funded with those settlement funds. The funding for the pilot program is for a 24-month period from March 1, 2023, through February 28, 2025.