People who commit nonviolent crimes as a result of substance abuse disorders would be given a chance to get help for their addiction rather than go through the criminal justice system under legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Carol Murphy.
The bill (A-5047), which was approved by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee on Thursday, would establish an 18-month Law Enforcement Addiction Intervention Pilot Program in Burlington County.
“We have multiple local addiction intervention programs for nonviolent offenders struggling with substance abuse in Burlington County,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “These initiatives have proven to be incredibly successful in changing the lives of people suffering from addiction. By replicating these efforts on a larger scale, we’ll be able to help even more people conquer their addiction and ultimately reduce crime as a result.”
Under the pilot program, certain nonviolent offenders would be referred to an appropriate treatment program. Municipal law enforcement agencies in Burlington County would participate in a county-wide addiction intervention task force, which would identify people who have committed nonviolent disorderly persons offenses as a result of, or related to, a substance use disorder and are at risk of a drug overdose. Individuals who voluntarily enter a police department and request help for their addiction may also receive assistance; they would not be arrested for certain drug possession crimes when asking for help.
The task force would make referrals to a trained recovery coach or an organization dedicated to providing addiction treatment services.
“We cannot forget that substance abuse is a disease, and like any disease, it must be treated,” said Murphy. “Time in jail is far from an effective treatment. In fact, it will likely make it even more difficult for people get the help they need. Law enforcement-based intervention programs are not only a more comprehensive approach, but a more compassionate one.”
The bill would require at least one officer in every law enforcement agency in Burlington County to be trained to interact with those with substance use disorders. The curriculum for the training would be developed by the Director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Attorney General and the County Prosecutor. The curriculum is required to include, but not be limited to, the following subjects:
(1) identification and recognition of different forms of behavioral issues related to substance abuse disorder;
(2) techniques for law enforcement to intervene with, interview, and de-escalate a person who may have a substance abuse disorder, including relevant language training;
(3) issues relating to suicide and prevention techniques; and
(4) an overview of community resources and options for treatment, including identification of local resources; and the function and availability of recover coaches.
The Attorney General would be required to submit to the Governor and to the Legislature a report evaluating the pilot program not more than thirty days after the implementation of the pilot program. The report would make recommendations concerning the effectiveness of the pre-arrest and post-arrest diversion techniques employed during the pilot program and how law enforcement agencies, consistent with their law enforcement mission, can work effectively with partners in the recovery community and treatment providers to assist people struggling with addiction, as well as their families. The task force also shall make a recommendation as to whether or not the program should be expanded to the state.
The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.