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Gusciora, Wimberly & Wilson Bill to Extend Drug Treatment to State Correctional Inmates Ineligible for Treatment Advances

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora, Benjie Wimberly and Gilbert “Whip” L. Wilson requiring state correctional facilities to allow inmates who are currently ineligible for drug treatment programs to receive treatment was recently released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The bill (A-3159) provides that an inmate in a state correctional facility who is otherwise eligible for drug treatment cannot be denied access to a drug treatment program operating in a state correctional facility based solely on that inmate having any detainer or open charge issued against him.

“Prison alone will not help an inmate battling drug addiction. If not addressed, chances are their drug use will land them in jail again, and that not only hurts the individual, but the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Denying treatment to someone with a drug addiction is counterproductive. This bill would extend treatment services to inmates at state correctional facilities who are currently exempt from treatment, and, hopefully, get them on the right path to recovery.”

In order to participate in the drug treatment available as part of the residential community release program, the mutual assistance program, or the therapeutic community substance abuse disorder treatment program, an inmate must meet certain eligibility criteria pursuant to regulations of the Commissioner of Corrections.

“Addiction is a factor of recidivism for many prisoners,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Prison is the best opportunity to help individuals with their addictions. Withholding treatment from prisoners is not in the best interest of the inmate or the communities they will return to after prison. Individuals should have a chance to pursue recovery and rehabilitation from addiction while incarcerated.”

One of the requirements is that an inmate be classified at “full minimum custody status.” Inmates are excluded from this status if they have any detainers or open charges, from any jurisdiction, issued against them. While detainers and open charges are sometimes disposed of while a person is incarcerated, inmates are often unsuccessful in having these matters resolved, and so are barred from receiving drug treatment during the terms of their custodial sentences.

“Prison itself is not a drug treatment center,” said Wilson (D-Camden, Gloucester). “Inmates need access to treatment and help getting their lives back on track. Drug treatment should be made a priority for inmates who need it.”

The bill would allow an inmate in need of drug treatment to receive the treatment, regardless of any detainer or open charge, as long as he or she is otherwise eligible and the treatment is available. Under the bill, an inmate with a detainer or open charge would only be eligible for drug treatment programs operating in state correctional facilities.

The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Monday, June 15. The Assembly Law & Public Safety approved the measure last October. It now awaits consideration by the Assembly Speaker.