Criminal defendants with mental health disabilities in New Jersey will be able to avoid jail time while pursuing treatment for their illness under a pilot program led by Essex County prosecutors.
Thanks to a $150,000 grant from New Jersey's Attorney General, individuals in the Newark area will benefit from a strategy that's been proven in many other areas of the country - diversion of non-violent mentally ill defendants away from jail and into treatment.
“For some time we have been working in a very tough economic environment to provide alternatives to incarceration to defendants with a history of serious mental illness,” said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray. “By creating a path where defendants can get long-term treatment we believe that we will be able to reduce the likelihood of these individuals escalating to new and more serious crimes," she added.
Acting State Attorney General John Hoffman cited statistics that suggest nearly one-quarter of inmates with a mental health disability have been locked up three or more times. The majority of those inmates also have substance abuse problems, often stemming from attempts to "self-medicate" when appropriate mental health treatment is inaccessible or unavailable.