Drug Diversion Programs in New Jersey

New Jersey has joined many states in transitioning many people who commit offenses that are largely the result of problems with substance abuse and mental illness away from the traditional criminal justice system. These are often referred to as alternative or diversionary programs.

Legislative Acknowledgement of Drug Rehabilitation for Certain Offenders (2C:35-1.1)

Lawmakers in New Jersey declared that their efforts toward drug-related criminal activity are particularly focused on “repeat drug offenders and upper echelon members of organized narcotics trafficking networks.” They acknowledge that their resources are scarce and must be used wisely. Their intent is to punish and deter those offenders that pose the greatest risk to public safety. When it is possible, those who are dependent on drugs should have access to diversionary drug rehabilitation and treatment programs.

2C:35-14: Rehabilitation Program for Drug and Alcohol Dependency

Offenders who are determined to be dependent on drugs or alcohol may be placed on “special” probation as a diversionary or alternative. The offender receives a professional initial assessment to determine if they would be suitable for drugs and/or alcohol treatment based on their dependency. This often applies to those who were intoxicated at the time the offense was committed or when the offense was committed for obtaining something of value in order to procure drugs and/or alcohol.  

Generally, those who are facing charges of a violent nature are ineligible for these programs. For example, those who committed an offense using a firearm, or were charged with murder, manslaughter, assault, etc. These treatment options are not appropriate for anyone deemed to be a “danger to the community.”

Any rehabilitation or treatment program must be licensed and approved by the Department of Human Services. Courts also may consider all available evidence involved and any pre-sentencing recommendations. Those undergoing a treatment program are subject to periodic testing for the usage of drugs and/or alcohol.

Others who are ineligible for these diversionary treatment options include:

  • Those charged with a first-degree offense or certain violent second-degree offenses
  • Crimes that have a mandatory minimum prison sentence
  • Those charged with drug distribution or a conspiracy to distribute drugs in proximity to a school

The programs of rehabilitation span a minimum of a six-month period. During this time, the offender will be placed under probationary supervision. Acts of noncompliance such as failing to submit to a test for detecting the use of drugs and/or alcohol will be referred back to the court. Upon finding that the offender violated the conditions of the program, the special probation may be revoked and the offender will be subject to prosecution for their original offense.

Costs of Rehabilitation

Those offenders that qualify for a diversionary option are subject to a court assessment regarding their financial resources. The legislative intent is not to deny access to treatment or rehabilitation to offenders who are destitute and lack monetary means. The court may determine that the offender be ordered to pay a fractional amount of the costs or be afforded the time to make installment payments.

Treatment in Lieu of Additional Fines for Drug Offenses (2C:35-15)

The New Jersey courts now may impose additional fines on drug offenders. These monies are used for the Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction Fund as follows:

First Degree

Second Degree

Third Degree

Fourth Degree

Disorderly Person Offense






The court may temporarily suspend the payment of these monetary penalties for those entering a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program. This applies when the offender agrees to pay all or a part of the cost of their rehabilitation program. Offenders who successfully complete their treatment program may apply to have the court reduce the amount they must pay for the additional fines by any amount paid toward their rehabilitation program.

Reformative Services in Lieu of Additional Fines

Offenders may be eligible to perform “reformative service” and have 50% of their additional fines reduced. This service includes “training, education, or work” that is “required, supervised, and recorded.” Some of the types of activity involved include further treatment for drug dependency, education, vocational or employment training, counseling, and more.

Pre-Trial Intervention Program (PTI)

The PTI program is typically restricted to first-time offenders and is similar to the “special” probation program. It is also an alternative to the traditional criminal justice system. PTI is also geared toward rehabilitating offenders and preventing future criminal activity. PTI does allow those charged with more serious offenses such as domestic violence to potentially be eligible. In those cases, the court will consider input from the victim in their decision regarding whether to allow admittance.

Drug Court

The drug court program began in New Jersey in 1996. Drug court differs from the “special” probation program in that offenders may be required to enter. The special probation program is only available to offenders that apply (voluntarily) for entrance. Offenders who are eligible for drug court are those with substance abuse problems.

The program has four phases that may extend over a period of two years. It also provides assistance with obtaining a driver's license that was suspended or for those who have not had a license before. Those who complete the program may be eligible to have their criminal record expunged; however, some of those mandated to participate may have offenses that are not eligible for expungement.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (2C:45-5)

In recent years, the opioid crisis has increased awareness regarding drug addiction. Leaders are now aware of how drug addicts struggle to abstain due to cravings and the dramatic psychological problems such as depression that develop in withdrawal. This has been very evident to those working in the state's correctional facilities where roughly 80% of inmates are battling substance abuse problems.

The FDA has approved several medications for those struggling with these problems. New Jersey lawmakers have expanded medication-assisted treatment as a temporary or longer-term means of support. Some of the most effective medications include “extended-release naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine” that is combined with behavioral and mental health counseling to offer a “whole-patient” approach.

Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has spent many years providing effective legal representation on behalf of clients across the state. He employs aggressive defense strategies and negotiation tactics that lead to positive outcomes. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation.

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When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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