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Groundbreaking Program Treats Offenders, Reduces Crime
NEWARK – Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Jennifer Velez today congratulated the most recent graduates of the Essex County Drug Court, one of the state’s first programs to treat drug minor offenders rather than send them to prison. The Essex County initiative started in 1996 as a pilot program and developed into a structured, well-defined model that paved the way for drug courts to be expanded throughout the state, reducing recidivism rates and restoring lives.

“Congratulations to today’s graduates for completing the drug court program and remaining committed to recovery,” Commissioner Velez said at the Essex County College Drug Court graduation ceremony, where family, friends and program staff cheered the graduates. “This is a tremendous accomplishment that will enable you to be present for many more significant events in your lives and the lives of your friends and families. I also want to extend best wishes to the other drug court participants who are advancing to the final phase of the program. We’re all very proud of you.”

The graduates join the ranks of about 3,000 people who have completed the three-to five-year program. According to the courts, almost 5,000 people currently are enrolled throughout the state.

A New Jersey Department of Corrections report from indicates that three years after release, two-thirds fewer drug court graduates were arrested than the number of drug offenders released from prison.


“Addiction is a disease that, if left untreated, can be deadly and certainly a catalyst to criminality. The Christie Administration believes that the path to recovery for nonviolent drug offenders should begin in treatment rather than in prison cells, and the recidivism statistics prove it,” Velez said, noting that Governor Christie included $4.5 million in his 2014 budget to expand the drug court program to about 250 more participants.

The drug courts are administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts, with DHS providing treatment funds.

Along with Essex County, Camden County also began accepting participants in 1996. By 1999, additional programs were established in Mercer, Passaic and Union Counties. By April 2002, five new drug court programs were established, in Bergen, Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, Monmouth, Morris, Sussex, and Ocean counties; and, by 2004, they were also operational in Atlantic, Cape May, Burlington, Hudson, Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren counties.

In July 2012, Governor Christie signed into law landmark, bipartisan legislation to put in place a statewide, mandatory drug court program. The legislation reinforced the principles laid out by Governor Christie - that no life is disposable and that it is a commonsense, fiscal, and moral imperative to help individuals dealing with drug addiction reclaim their lives with treatment, rather than warehousing them in prison.

Mandatory drug courts were established in Hudson, Ocean and the region including Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties.The law calls for a five-year phase in period, during which the capacity of the state's drug courts will be expanded and the effectiveness of the effort will be measured.

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