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May is Drug Court Month

For further information contact
Winnie Comfort
(609) 292-9580
For release: May 20, 2002

The New Jersey Judiciary is celebrating National Drug Court Month with the successful opening of five new drug courts in Bergen, Gloucester, Monmouth, Morris/Sussex and Ocean County vicinages, Administrative Director of the Courts Judge Richard J. Williams announced today.

In addition, the state Assembly today demonstrated their support for the expansion of drug courts in New Jersey by passing a resolution designating May as Drug Court Month in New Jersey. "The 2002 observance of 'Drug Court Month' provides a unique opportunity for citizens throughout the State and across the nation to increase public awareness of drug courts and their effectiveness in their fight against substance abuse," the resolution states

Drug courts are special courts for non-violent drug-involved offenders who are identified as being most likely to benefit from treatment and not likely to pose a risk to public safety. Offenders receive intensive supervision and swift sanctions for noncompliance as they undergo treatment and counseling for their drug and alcohol addictions. The program involves a team approach on the part of judges, court staff, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators and treatment counselors, all of whom work together to support and monitor a participant's recovery.

First piloted in Camden, Essex, Union, Passaic and Mercer Counties, drug courts now operate in ten vicinages across the state. By next summer, all of New Jersey's fifteen vicinages will have drug courts. Each program will be able to add 110 new cases per year.

In his response to the resolution, Judge Williams said, "We are grateful for the Assembly's ongoing support of this worthy program. Drug courts offer an innovative approach to breaking the cycle of drug abuse and the crime associated with it."

The expansion of the drug court program is the result of legislation, signed into law in September, that increased the number of judgeships in the state at the Superior Court level and appropriated funds necessary to process convicted drug users through the program.

Additional funding was appropriated to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, which will be responsible for coordinating treatment for drug court participants.

Nationally, there are 785 drug courts operating in all 50 states. More than 226,000 people have entered drug court programs nationwide. Approximately 75 percent are the parents of minor children. More than 2,100 drug-fee babies have been born to participants in drug court programs.

"Drug courts help keep families together and off of welfare. They provide support services to help offenders find and keep employment, significantly improving their lives and the lives of their families. The economic benefits to society have been tremendous," said Williams.

The number of inmates in New Jersey prisons has climbed dramatically in the past two decades, in part because of the increased penalties required for convicted drug offenders. More than 42 percent of New Jersey's inmates report a "moderate" or "extreme" problem with drugs.

The drug court program offers a cost effective alternative to incarceration, which costs $34,218 per inmate for the first year of incarceration. The highest first-year residential treatment cost per drug court participant is $17,266. The first year cost for those receiving non-residential treatment is considerably lower.

Drug courts also contribute significantly to reducing the racial disparity of prison populations. Approximately 85 percent of offenders diverted from prison into drug courts are minorities.

The resolution notes that more than 2,000 offenders have participated in drug court programs in New Jersey, with 1,411 offenders currently at various stages of the program. The statewide retention rate is 72 percent.

"Drug courts work, but it is simply not fair that they are available only in some counties." said Williams. "Expanding these programs statewide will ensure fairness by providing all of our citizens equal protection."

To learn more about drug courts or to make arrangements to visit a drug court, please call the New Jersey Judiciary Office of Public Affairs: (609) 292-9580

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