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Legislation Promoting Rehabilitative Treatment for Substance-Dependent Offenders Passes Assembly Committee

Placing an emphasis on rehabilitation over punishment, Assembly Democrats John Armato and Valerie Vainieri Huttle have sponsored a bill that would reduce court-ordered fines owed by drug or alcohol-dependent people upon the completion of a treatment program. The legislation was advanced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee Thursday.

Under the bill (A-275), a substance-dependent person who successfully completes a treatment program would be allowed to pay less for fines they owe as a result of unlawful activity.

“Someone living with a substance use disorder needs help and guidance rather than punishment, even if they have broken the law because of their struggle with drugs or alcohol,” said Assemblyman John Armato (D-Atlantic). “Reducing fines for the completion of a treatment program provides further motivation for an individual’s successful participation, which will help set them on a healthier and more promising path.”

The legislation is based on recommendations from the Report of the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Court Operations, Fines, and Fees issued in 2018. Their ninth recommendation was to allow defendants to receive credit towards their legal financial obligations for hours spent in clinical treatment.

Psychologists and other experts have begun advocating for rehabilitative approaches when dealing with unlawful activity, rather than solely taking punitive action against defendants. Rehabilitation can help address the underlying causes of a crime and help offenders reform their ways.

“By helping someone recover from their substance use disorder, we can help them avoid situations where they may get into trouble with the law again,” said Assemblywoman Vainieri Huttle. “Focusing on rehabilitation will help reduce rates of recidivism throughout our state, which is good not only for defendants, but for the community as a whole.”

Credit towards financial obligations would not be applicable for restitution or child support payments.

The bill will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.