Acting Attorney General Hoffman announced that each of those three county prosecutors’ offices will receive a grant of $150,000 over two years for programs that will offer treatment and counseling through contracted services to eligible participants as an alternative to a potential prison sentence. Program participants will be monitored by case managers who will ensure that the defendants comply with treatment plans and medication. The case managers will report back to the prosecutors, the court, and defense attorneys about the participants’ progress.
Defendants will be screened for eligibility based on an identified mental health disorder or mental health disorder and co-occurring substance use disorder. Consideration also will be given to the nature and severity of the crime and the defendant’s prior criminal record. Studies show that roughly one-quarter of inmates with a mental health disability have previously been incarcerated three or more times and about three-quarters have a co-occurring substance use disorder.
“No life is disposable, and when a criminal defendant’s problems appear to be caused or aggravated by a mental health disability, there is both a moral and a practical imperative for us to try to reclaim that life by offering necessary treatment and counseling,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Providing these services to low-level criminal defendants with a diagnosed mental disorder is not only a cost-effective alternative to prison, but research consistently shows it reduces recidivism.”
“I would like to thank the Attorney General’s Office for its support of the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office and its ongoing efforts to address issues of mental illness within the justice system,” said Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton. “This funding will allow us to expand our mental health program and provide additional treatment opportunities instead of incarceration for this segment of our population in Gloucester County.”
“We are very grateful to the Governor and the Attorney General for this award,” said Warren County Prosecutor Richard T. Burke. “Although Warren County had instituted a mental health program several years ago, the funds will allow us to better serve a greater number of individuals, particularly mentally challenged individuals at our correctional center.”
According to Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns, III, “I am pleased my office is a part of this crucial new initiative. I applaud Governor Christie and Acting Attorney General Hoffman for their compassionate and progressive approach to offering treatment options for non-violent defendants suffering from mental health disabilities. In many instances incarceration is costly and does not offer the treatment and rehabilitation alternatives needed by these individuals. With the support of the Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders and working closely with our partners from Hunterdon Prevention Resources (HPR), the Hunterdon Drug Awareness Program (HDAP), and other community based programs, we will work to successfully divert offenders from the prison system and help them achieve mental stability and avoid future criminal behavior. In Hunterdon County our drug court program has been a very successful tool for drug offenders to change their behavior and put their lives back on track. I’m confident we will find the same success with the mental health diversionary program.”
The programs will be funded with two-year grants from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office. The grants are being provided using monies from the State’s Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction Fund, which is funded through monetary penalties imposed on convicted drug offenders. In addition, each of the counties will provide a total of $50,000 in monetary and in-kind contributions.
In 2014, Acting Attorney General Hoffman awarded grants of $150,000 each to the Ocean County and Essex County Prosecutor’s Offices to launch successful two-year pilot programs in mental health diversion. In addition, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office has a mental health diversion program focused on veterans and active-duty military that is funded by the Attorney General’s Office, and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has a mental health diversion program funded from other sources.
This strategy of seeking to treat and redeem non-violent offenders who are suffering from a mental health disability, instead of warehousing them in prison, complements Governor Chris Christie’s compassionate and effective expansion of New Jersey’s drug court program, which now provides mandatory treatment statewide for drug-addicted offenders who commit non-violent crimes.