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Program Offers Treatment Instead of Jail for Defendants with Mental Illness

Program funded through grant from New Jersey Office of the Attorney General.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman/File photo
Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman/File photo

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman Monday announced the launch of a pilot program in Essex County to provide alternatives to incarceration for some defendants diagnosed with mental health disabilities. 

Hoffman announced that the two-year Prosecutor-Led Mental Health Pilot Program in Essex County will offer treatment and counseling through contracted services to eligible participants in lieu of risking a 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 counsel 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 will also 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 been previously incarcerated three or more times and about three-quarters have a co-occurring substance use disorder.

“Diversionary programs such as this one focus on getting help for those who need it most,” Hoffman said. “This first-of-its-kind initiative will give critical services to defendants in need of treatment and counseling. Providing alternatives to incarceration for low-level criminal defendants with a diagnosed mental disorder is not only a cost-effective alternative to prison, but research consistently indicates that it results in lower levels of recidivism among participants than the general inmate population.”

“For some time we have been working in a very tough economic environment to provide alternatives to incarceration to defendants with a history of serious mental illness,” Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray said. “This grant, provided by the Attorney General’s Office, will be invaluable in those efforts. Our Mental Health Unit, which was formally established in December of 2012, has been working to end the cycle of violence that we so often see with defendants suffering from mental illness. By creating a path where defendants can get long term treatment we believe we will be able to reduce the likelihood of these individuals escalating to new and sometimes more serious crimes. This grant will certainly be pivotal in those efforts.’’

The program will be funded through a grant from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office will receive a total of $150,000 over two years. The funding is being provided from criminal forfeiture monies obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice. In addition, the county will provide a total of $50,000 through a combination of in-kind and monetary funds.

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is one of two prosecutors’ offices to receive the grant. The other grant recipient is the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.

Submitted by the New Jersey Attorney General's office.

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