Bill Would Allow Access to Drug Treatment Regardless of Detainer or Open Charge
Legislation Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora, Benjie Wimberly, Jamel Holley, Elizabeth Muoio, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Shavonda Sumter sponsored to help more inmates in correctional facilities overcome substance use disorders recently was advanced by the Senate and now heads to the governor.
“Addiction and recidivism often go hand in hand. If inmates don’t get the help they need while behind bars, there’s a good chance of them ending up back in prison,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Having an open detainer shouldn’t be a prohibition on receiving drug treatment.”
In order to participate in a drug treatment program available as part of the residential community release program, the mutual assistance program or the therapeutic community substance abuse disorder treatment program, an inmate is required to meet certain eligibility criteria. One of the criteria is that an inmate must be classified at “full minimum custody status,” which requires having no detainers or open charges. As such, certain inmates cannot receive treatment for substance abuse while in prison.
The bill (A-2619) would prohibit state correctional facilities from denying an incarcerated individual access to participation in a drug treatment program solely because the individual has a detainer or open charge issued against him or her and thus does not have full minimum custody status.
“A person with a chronic disease like addiction should not be barred from receiving drug treatment simply because of his or her custody status,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “In the same way that all inmates can receive dental or pharmacy services in a correctional facility, they ought to be able to receive treatment for substance abuse.”
“More than half of all people imprisoned in the United States have a history of substance abuse and addiction. For many of them, incarceration is a result of an attempt to feed that addiction,” said Holley (D-Union). “We know that substance abuse is the underlying problem. Refusing to treat someone because he or she has a detainer or pending charges doesn’t solve it.”
“Keeping people out of drug treatment hurts those individuals directly, but they’re not the only ones affected. Taxpayers pay the price for high recidivism rates, and the criminal activity associated with the sale of illicit drugs is a threat to public safety,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “In addition to saving the lives of those who struggle with substance abuse, giving more inmates the opportunity to get on the road to recovery while they’re in prison ultimately would have a positive effect on all residents of New Jersey.”
“The purpose of a correctional facility should be to make sure people leave better than they were when they came in,” said Chiaravalloti (D-Hudson). “Drug treatment should be regarded as a necessary part of rehabilitation for those who need it, not a reward based on custody status.”
“Within criminal justice populations, access to drug treatment can be a major determinant of an individual’s ability to lead a successful life after leaving prison,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “No one would deny the necessary medical care to someone with diabetes or hypertension due to custody status. Addiction also is a health condition, and access to treatment should be available accordingly.”
The measure, which the Assembly passed in June and the Senate passed Dec. 19, gained unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature.