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The Expansion of Drug Court and Its Limitations during the Pandemic

Our offices represent many former and current substance abusers and we have advocated for our clients’ entrance to the Drug Court program as an alternative to incarceration with many successfully completing the program. Within the past year, comprehensive changes and improvements have been made to the Drug Court program, whose manual had gone largely untouched since 2002, reflecting advances in the inclusivity and flexibility of New Jersey’s Drug Court Program.

Outlined in the legislature and approved by the Senate, in an effort to promote accessibility to the program, potential participants would no longer be exempted from consideration for having an extensive criminal history. Previously, those who had convicted of two or more second- or third-degree crimes were ineligible for the program, though those convicted of serious, violent crimes, including murder, manslaughter, rape, and kidnapping are still ineligible for the program. In 2012, Drug Court had also eliminated the requirement for inpatient treatment for the first six months of the program, allowing the judge to decide on inpatient and outpatient terms depending on the individual case.

In addition to these measures to increase the population and flexibility of the program the new manual also details expungement criteria for those individuals who have successfully graduated from Drug Court. Namely, that, as of 2016, participants of Drug Court who have not committed serious and violent crimes are eligible for expungement without the typical verified petition process, barring certain circumstances. Graduates of the program who qualify for expungement need only complete an Expungement Order and present it to the sentencing judge, and the expungement covers all prior criminal arrests and convictions.

Furthermore, the new manual includes a section on Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). As our understanding of drug addiction has grown, in addition to advances in pharmacology, MAT has gained significant ground in the past two decades and is seen as an invaluable tool in improving rates of successful completion of Drug Court. The segment in the manual details the formal MAT policy.

Finally, along with the changes made to the manual, there have been some practical changes made to Drug Court due to the pandemic. Normally, the program is divided into four sections, which had participants report in-person less and less often with the completion of each phase. With the pandemic, Phase 1 is entirely conducted via Zoom, and Mega Calls occur every few weeks. Drug testing during the pandemic is also only conducted at treatment now, instead of occurring at court and when reporting for probation. Finally, treatment and meetings are currently via Tele-Health and Zoom, as well. Obviously, Drug Court has made some significant changes in the past year, but it is still an available resource for drug-users.

The Law Offices of Eric B. Morrell are committed to fighting for our clients rights. Should any substance abusers be charged with a crime, our offices have a proven track record of advocating for Drug Court as an alternative treatment program to jail time. Our offices speak regularly about expungements and changes to the law, as well. These changes to the Drug Court program serve to strengthen our arguments for using the program to fit our clients’ needs. If you or someone you know is a substance abuser charged with a crime, please contact our offices for a consultation.

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