|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced the launch of a pilot program in Ocean County to provide alternatives to incarceration for some defendants diagnosed with mental health disabilities.
Acting Attorney General Hoffman announced that the two-year Prosecutor-Led Mental Health Pilot Program in Ocean County will offer treatment and counseling through contracted services to eligible participants in lieu of risking a prison sentence. Program participants will be monitored by case managers who will ensure that the defendants comply with treatment plans and medication. The case managers will report back to the prosecutors, the court, and defense counsel about the participants’ progress.
Defendants will be screened for eligibility based on an identified mental health disorder or mental health disorder and co-occurring substance use disorder. Consideration will also be given to the nature and severity of the crime and the defendant's prior criminal record. Studies show that roughly one-quarter of inmates with a mental health disability have been previously incarcerated three or more times and about three-quarters have a co-occurring substance use disorder.
“Diversionary programs such as this one focus on getting help for those who need it most,” Acting Attorney General Hoffman said. “This first-of-its-kind initiative will give critical services to defendants in need of treatment and counseling. Providing alternatives to incarceration for low-level criminal defendants with a diagnosed mental disorder is not only a cost-effective alternative to prison, but research consistently indicates that it results in lower levels of recidivism among participants than the general inmate population.”
“On behalf of the citizens of Ocean County, I would like to thank the Office of the Attorney General for selecting our county to pilot this ground breaking innovative program,” stated Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato. “The people of Ocean County will benefit greatly from the timely and appropriate attention to the mental health needs of the selected program participants.”
The program will be funded through a grant from the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office will receive a total of $150,000 over two years. The funding is being provided from criminal forfeiture monies obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice. In addition, the county will provide a total of $50,000 through a combination of in-kind and monetary funds.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office is one of two prosecutors’ offices to receive the grant. The other grant recipient is the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.