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How Does Drug Court Work in NJ?


What Is Drug Court?

Drugs and alcohol are significant factors in the commission of crimes. People suffer altered states of mind and poor judgment skills when under the influence of drugs and alcohol, causing them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do if they were sober, such as committing crimes. The state of New Jersey recognizes that it’s important to address the root of these problems, which is why it imposes drug courts.

Drug court is a special program designed for people with drug addictions who commit crimes. As such, participants are scheduled to come into court, report to probation, attend treatment, and get drug tested. Treatment can range from detox, outpatient treatment, or residential treatment depending on the participant’s needs. A participant will be subjected to urine drug testing, which may be taken at treatment, probation, court, or during a home visit.

New Jersey’s drug court program intends to help defendants resolve their addictions as well as their related criminal charges. Drug court is only available to eligible defendants who are accused of a nonviolent crime and essentially “bridges the gap” between criminal justice and drug treatment professionals. Key elements of New Jersey’s drug court program include:

  • Collaborative links among the courts, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement, treatment providers, social service agencies, and community-based non-profit organizations
  • A standardized assessment process used to identify eligible non-violent offenders
  • Staff members trained in substance abuse and recovery issues operating in a non-adversarial atmosphere
  • A system of graduated sanctions and incentives to encourage recovery goals and hold offenders accountable for non-compliant behaviors
  • Continuous training and education on a state and national level for drug court professionals
  • Ongoing program evaluation and implementation of improvements as warranted

Am I Eligible for Drug Court?

Not all defendants with a drug addiction can get diverted to drug court. Only nonviolent offenders who have a moderate to severe substance addiction are eligible for drug court in New Jersey. To determine the severity of a drug addiction, a substance abuse evaluator will conduct an assessment, while a prosecutor will review the defendant’s criminal history to analyze their legal eligibility.

How Long Does Drug Court Last?

New Jersey drug courts include four phases:

Phase 1: Stabilization

  • The minimum time in this phase is 3 months
  • Actively attending treatment as determined by the clinician
  • Active in self-help

Phase 2: Positive change

  • The minimum time in this phase is 6 months
  • Permanent home group and sponsor
  • Working full time or part-time while attending school

Phase 3: Relapse prevention

  • The minimum time in this phase is 3 months
  • Continued active role in the rooms of self-help
  • Maintain contact with a probation officer

Phase 4: Commencement

  • Quarterly court reporting
  • Follow through on paying fines and restitution
  • Mentor new drug court members

Can I Get My Record Expunged After Completing Drug Court?

More times than not, drug court graduates can get their records expunged on the date of graduation. However, participants should speak with their lawyer to verify whether or not they are eligible.

Benefits of Drug Court

Drug court has many benefits for both the participants and society. Drug court is proven to reduce repeat offenses by 14% to 26%, which benefits everyone. For example, one study found that within a two-year follow-up period, the felony re-arrest rate decreased from 40% before the drug court to 12% after the drug court started in one county, and the felony re-arrest rate decreased from 50% to 35% in another county.

In addition, drug courts lower costs for defendants and the public altogether compared to traditional criminal justice system processing. Researchers found that treatment and other investment costs averaged $1,392 lower per drug court participant. Lower rates of recidivism and other long-term program outcomes resulted in public savings of $6,744 on average per participant (or $12,218 if victimization costs are included).

Ultimately, drug court offers a pathway to help people in need rather than punish them. If you were accused of a nonviolent offense in Bergen County and want to learn if you are eligible for drug court, get in touch with our law firm online or at (201) 574-7919!

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