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Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood: Mandatory Rehab Instead of Jail for Nonviolent Drug Offenders

New Jersey has classified most drug possession as a fourth or third degree crime, often resulting in prison sentences for the offenders.  In July 2012, Governor Chris Christie signed a bill with bipartisan support giving mandatory rehab to non-violent drug offenders instead of prison time. The program initially takes effect in a limited area, and gradually widens in scope to include the entire state.

The new bill requires judges to evaluate whether a non-violent drug offender is a drug-dependent person, and whether the offender will benefit from a court-supervised drug rehabilitation program.  If so, the convicted offender is put on special probation and required to attend the drug rehabilitation program instead of going to jail.

The goal of the new law, according to the governor’s office, is to “help individuals dealing with drug addiction reclaim their lives with treatment, rather than warehousing them in prison.”  Graduates of New Jersey’s voluntary drug court program have had a lower recidivism rate than inmates who have finished their prison sentences for similar offenses.  The state’s housing cost for a prison inmate is almost four times greater than for a drug rehabilitation participant.

The new law tries to extend these benefits — helping drug-dependent individuals break their habit and doing so with greater efficiency — to individuals who wouldn't go voluntarily to New Jersey’s existing program.

If you have been charged with a drug offense, it is important to contact a lawyer immediately to help you form a strong defense before you discuss your case with the prosecution.

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