Late last year New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued an executive order that seeks to expand and alter the state’s outdated drug-court program. Drug courts have been used in New Jersey since 1996; however, it took many years before expanding to different parts of the state. The Governor’s recent commitment to changing and rejuvenating the program may mean that more options are available to those facing New Jersey drug charges.
What Are Drug Courts?
Our Burlington County criminal defense lawyer knows that many community members are under the mistaken assumption that these courts are simply places that exclusively hear drug cases. However, that is not entirely true. Drug courts do not just take drug cases in the traditional criminal processing model, but they instead offer a wide range of unique long-term support and probationary sentences for a select group of offenders.
Unlike other courts, a drug court seeks to help those charged with drug charges with a “monitoring and mentoring” process that is very different than traditional criminal courts. Of course, the ultimately goal of these courts is to help the offender lose their drug dependency, and, in so doing, hopefully limit the chance of the offending committing future crimes.
Essentially, these courts give certain non-violent offenders the ability to enter drug-treatment and testing programs instead of facing jail or prison time. The offenders still end up with criminal records, but they avoid being incarcerated and the long-time life complications that result from it. The drug court programs last three to five years and often include literacy classes and job training in addition to drug treatment.
Click Here for a comprehensive report on the history of drug courts in our state.
Governor Christie’s executive order—to begin in a trial phase in two counties—seeks to better capitalize on the benefit of drugs courts. Specifically, the changes would steer more drug offenders into drug courts by making participation in the courts mandatory for certain individuals. Right now the program is not available to many and only open to others who expressly volunteer for it.
Supporters of the changes argue that many more local residents can benefit from the program as an alternative to prison. In addition, the programs are far more cost-effective for the state. About 1,400 people are taken by drug courts statewide each year. On average, it costs the state $11,000 per year for those individuals as opposed to $39,000 per prison inmate yearly.
Proponents also point to stats which show that recidivism rates for drug court participants is only 1 in 6, while the figure is 1 in 2 for those sentenced to traditional incarceration.
Getting Help After New Jersey Drug Charges
If you are charged with a drug offense in our area, the first step is always to seek out the advice of a Burlington County criminal defense lawyer. A legal professional can explain all of your options to either fight the charges or seek help via alternative programs like the drug court. When handled properly, the long-term consequences of these charges can be minimized, and individuals are often able to move on without severe damage to their long-term future prospects.
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