New Jersey Lawmakers Help Inmates Combat Addiction

TRENTON, N.J. — A New Jersey bill first introduced in February 2016 to provide support to inmates with drug addition was officially signed into law on Feb. 10, 2017. Co-sponsored by several assembly democrats, the bill (A-2619) prohibits 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, according to a statement by the bill’s sponsors.

“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 Assembly Member Reed Gusciora, D-Mercer/Hunterdon, in a statement. “Having an open detainer shouldn’t be a prohibition on receiving drug treatment.”

Prior to the bill’s passage into law, in order to participate in a drug treatment programming, an inmate was required to meet certain eligibility criteria. One of the criteria stated that the inmate must be classified at “full minimum custody status,” which required having no detainers or open charges. As such, certain inmates could not receive treatment for substance abuse while in prison.

Co-sponsor Assembly Member Benjie Wimberly, D-Bergen/Passaic, agrees in the statement that custody status should not be a determinant of access to addiction treatment, and in a statement likened drug treatment to any other sort of medical service. “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,” he said.

Currently, more than half of all U.S. inmates have a history of substance abuse and addiction, according to a statement by Assembly Member Jamel Holley, D-Union, who also co-sponsored the new law. Drawing the connection between addiction and incarceration, Holley believes that refusing to treat an inmate on the basis of a detainer or pending charges doesn’t solve the problem, according to a statement.

Meanwhile, Assembly Member and co-sponsor Elizabeth Muoio, D-Mercer/Hunterdon, supported to the bill in part for its longer-term benefits to state taxpayers. Keeping inmates from receiving beneficial drug treatment services not only impacts them directly, but also affects taxpayers who feel the brunt of high recidivism rates. Muoio also noted in a statement that the criminal activity associated with the sale of illicit drugs is a threat to public safety.

“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 Assembly Member Shavonda Sumter, D-Bergen/Passaic, in a statement. “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.”