The mission of the drug court program is to assist defendants in overcoming alcohol and other drug dependencies while resolving related criminal charges. Drug courts involve a highly specialized team process within the existing Superior Court structure that addresses nonviolent drug-related cases. They are unique in the criminal justice environment because they build a close collaborative relationship between criminal justice and drug treatment professionals.
The drug court judge heads a team of court staff, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators and treatment professionals who work together to support and monitor a participant's recovery. The program maintains a critical balance of authority, supervision, support and encouragement.
Drug court programs are rigorous, requiring intensive supervision based on frequent drug testing and court appearances, along with tightly structured regimens of treatment and recovery services. This level of supervision permits the program to support the recovery process, but also allows supervisors to react swiftly to impose appropriate therapeutic sanctions or to reinstate criminal proceedings when participants cannot comply with the program.
The New Jersey drug court model was developed through the hard work and dedication of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, drug court professionals, substance abuse evaluators and probation officers.
Drug court began in New Jersey in 1996 when the Camden and Essex Superior Courts started accepting participants. These local projects evolved into well-defined drug court programs that paved the way for additional pilot program efforts. By 1999 additional programs were established in Mercer, Passaic and Union Counties. In 1999, the Chief Justice asked the Conference of Criminal Presiding Judges to review the existing adult drug courts to determine whether drug courts were a “best practice” in the Criminal Division and the potential for expansion. In May 2000, the Conference of Criminal Presiding Judges recommended drug courts as a “best practice” and in June of the same year the Judicial Council adopted drug courts as a “best practice” and called for a comprehensive statewide proposal. Issues of equal access and fundamental fairness required that the Judiciary produce a plan for expansion of drug courts to all counties in the state.
In December 2000, the Judiciary released a document entitled “Drug Courts: A Plan for Statewide Implementation” proposing statewide implementation of adult drug courts based on the success of the pilot initiatives. On September 6, 2001, L.2001, c.243 was signed by the Governor. That law provided the Judiciary with funding to expand drug courts beyond the initial five courts. The plan involved a three-phase process resulting in the establishment of a statewide drug court program that would focus on substance-abusing criminal offenders who are charged with non-violent offenses and who do not have prior convictions for violent crimes.
Phase I: Involved the transfer of the pilot drug courts from grant funding to direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey.
Phase II: Began on April 2, 2002, when five new drug court programs, in Bergen, Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem, Monmouth, Morris/Sussex and Ocean Vicinages became operational.
Phase III: The remaining five vicinages in Atlantic/Cape May, Burlington, Hudson, Middlesex and Somerset/Hunterdon/Warren became operational on September 1, 2004.
L.2012, c.23, was signed into law by Governor Christie on July 19, 2012 to expand the existing voluntary Drug Court to compel additional drug offenders into the program.
As outlined in Section III: Drug Court Expansion Projects, the "Special Probation" statute N.J.S.A. 2C: 35-14 was amended, effective July 1, 2013, to add two sections, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14-2, to require admission to the Drug Court program of otherwise eligible offenders regardless of whether they made a voluntary application. The mandatory Drug Court project was incorporated into the statewide adult drug court program in five phases as follows:
For more information, contact the Administrative Office of the Courts, Criminal Practice Division, Statewide Coordination, P.O. Box 982, Trenton, New Jersey 08625, or the drug court coordinators in the vicinages.