As New Jersey continues along in a heroin abuse crisis, one state legislator is proposing a measure that would allow juvenile drug offenders into a diversionary program that has been deemed successful for adults.
The state's Drug Court program allows criminal proceedings against those charged with drug offenses to stop, instead favoring intensive supervision
based on frequent drug testing and court appearances,
and tightly structured regimens of treatment and recovery services.
But as it currently stands, the program is only offered to those ages 18 and above. A bill introduced this week in the state legislature by Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Morris, Somerset) would allow juvenile offenders to participate as well.
"The success of New Jersey’s Drug
Courts is well documented. The program has become a national model for the beneficial
and cost-effective rehabilitation of drug offenders," said Bucco, in a statement issued Thursday. "Now it is time to
extend the same opportunity to young offenders,
under 18, who are even more
deserving of one shot at redemption to salvage their futures."
Bucco specifically said the Drug Court program could help fight the spread of the state's heroin epidemic, which is causing a record number of overdoses in many parts of the state, led by Ocean County.
Under the provisions of the bill, juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent and
subject to a term of incarceration or a minimum term of parole ineligibility
may be admitted into drug court if the juvenile meets the eligibility
"By keeping a young
offender out of the correctional system and placing them in the proactive
monitoring and counseling of the Drug Courts,
we are saving the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. But the primary
benefit is the chance to intervene before an individual is swept into the
spiral of hopelessness that comes along with a criminal record and time behind
bars," Bucco's statement said.
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.