AG Platkin Announces New Program in Six Municipal Court Systems to Assist Non-Violent Offenders Overcoming Addiction

For Immediate Release: November 1, 2022

Office of the Attorney General
– Matthew J. Platkin, Attorney General
– Kelly E. Levy, Acting Director

For Further Information:

Media Inquiries-
Julia Wiacek

TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Kelly E. Levy, Acting Director of the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES), today announced the launch of a new pilot program to establish prosecutor-led diversion programs in six municipal courts across New Jersey that will help non-violent offenders overcome drug addiction.

The program, known as Opt for Help and Hope, initially will launch in six pilot sites, which were 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
  • Paterson City Municipal Court
  • Franklin Township Municipal Court

The Opt for Help and Hope Initiative, which is being funded with proceeds from the Attorney General’s settlement with a company allegedly involved in the false advertisement of opioid products, will be administered under NJ CARES. The goals of the program are to offer early intervention for defendants whose offenses are non-violent, to help establish additional pathways to recovery that saves lives, and to minimize the deleterious impact that arrests and convictions can have on the stability needed to sustain recovery. The program could be expanded to additional locations at a later date.

Throughout New Jersey, the existing Recovery Court Program (formerly known as the Drug Court Program) assists defendants in overcoming alcohol and other drug dependencies while resolving related criminal charges. The Recovery Court Program is focused on non-violent drug-related cases in Superior Court, which generally handles more serious criminal charges.

By expanding the addiction support services available to municipal court, Opt for Help and Hope will assist individuals experiencing substance use disorder before their drug-related conduct escalates to the kind of more serious criminal conduct that is prosecuted in Superior Court. Opt for Help and Hope is the first statewide initiative focused on offering support services for substance use disorder to municipal court defendants.

“Non-violent individuals suffering from addiction deserve treatment and a chance to live healthy lives, rather than criminal prosecution,” said Attorney General Platkin. “This new program will provide people with the resources they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and in turn, alleviate the volume of criminal cases that come to municipal courts. I am confident that this initiative will positively impact our fight in breaking the vicious cycle of crime and addiction.”

The county prosecutor with jurisdiction over the six participating municipal court systems will act as recipients for the grant funds and implement Opt for Help and Hope in the six selected Municipal Courts. The county prosecutor’s offices in Atlantic, Burlington, Essex, Mercer, Passaic, and Somerset Counties will split the funding equally and receive base funding in the amount of $333,333.

“As the coordinator for addiction fighting efforts under the Department of Law & Public Safety, NJ CARES is thrilled to oversee this innovative and hopefully life-changing initiative,” said Kelly E. Levy, Acting Director of NJ CARES. “Opt for Help and Hope will be another tool law enforcement has to target individuals with addiction issues in an attempt to connect them to services.”

Each participating county prosecutor’s office must set up a program that screens potential participants at the time of arrest or at any point in the court process. After agreeing to enter the program and completing paperwork, participants are given a peer recovery coach who will arrange for the person to be assessed for services, including treatment at a community-based treatment provider and recovery support, and transportation to appointments. At the time of the person’s court appearance, the prosecutor overseeing the case will determine if the person has “meaningfully engaged” in recommended services. If the person has shown engagement, the prosecutor may move to dismiss or downgrade the charges. If not, the prosecutor may request an adjournment to give the person more time to participate in services. If a person declines participation in the program, they can still connect with the services but will not have the benefit of getting their charges dismissed or downgraded.

“The Prosecutors office and Central Municipal Court of Atlantic County are grateful for the opportunity to be part of the solution and being selected as a pilot county for the Opt for Help and Hope grant. These funds will be utilized to provide opportunities for those with addiction issues to get the help that they need as opposed to being prosecuted for low level crimes that stem directly from their addiction issues,” said Atlantic County Prosecutor William E. Reynolds. “However, it places accountability on everyone including the individual to do their part on the road to recovery. We all need to be better together. This is a great starting point.”

“The Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office applauds the dedication being shown by the creation of this initiative to helping those who are battling substance use disorder,” said Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia L. Bradshaw. “We know all too well that we cannot prosecute someone into sobriety. Those struggling to break the powerful grip of drugs need support and treatment, and Opt for Help and Hope will enable those resources to become available at a point in their lives when they are truly experiencing the damage being done by their addiction.”

“In keeping with this office’s mission, to seek justice, serve justice, and to do justice, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has supported numerous programs which focus on helping non-violent drug offenders find the resources they need to overcome addiction,” said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II. “Once freed of their addictions, they are far more likely to lead law-abiding lives. As a former municipal court judge, I am keenly aware that local courts, especially a court with the volume of East Orange, contend with the criminal ramifications of addictions on a regular basis; and they can greatly benefit from programs that address this very issue. Therefore, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office wholeheartedly supports this new program, which will offer a lifeline to individuals in the thrall of addiction while helping to safeguard the public at large.”

“Mercer is proud to play a part in such an important pilot program that ensures recovery services are accessible to non-violent offenders who struggle with addiction,” said Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri.  “Addiction issues often bring individuals into contact with the criminal justice system for the first time and in many cases, these individuals just need someone to believe in them and offer a little help and hope. This initiative provides the support and resources needed to turn lives around and overcome addiction, and is an investment in public safety as well as personal transformation.”

“Opt for Help and Hope will provide early intervention and screening at the municipal court level for individuals on the path to recovery.  For many, the first entry point into the criminal justice system occurs at the municipal court level,” said Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes.  “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 participating in Opt for Help and Hope and providing Passaic County residents the necessary tools and support systems.”

“Opt for Help and Hope builds on the mission of the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office to serve and protect our communities while effectuating justice. Stemming the devastating impact of addiction to the individual and the community at large is a primary objective of our Office. We are excited to partner with the Attorney General’s Office and NJ CARES on this extremely important and worthwhile initiative,” said Somerset County Prosecutor John P. McDonald. “The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office is looking forward to leading and deploying Opt for Help and Hope as a transformational tool in the lives of non-violent drug offenders. Assistant Prosecutor Natacha Despinos Peavey will be spearheading this initiative on behalf of our Office.”

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 has secured hundreds of millions of dollars 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.  The grant opportunity and application are posted to OAG Grants.


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