New Jersey's 7th Legislative District

Senator Diane Allen

Senator Diane Allen

Allen Bill Creating Pre-Trial Intervention for Veterans Coping With Mental Illness & Addiction Advances

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Bill Creates Program to Divert Veterans Charged with Nonviolent Offenses into Treatment Programs

Legislation sponsored by Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington) to provide greater support for veterans struggling with addiction or mental illness has cleared the Senate Military & Veterans Affairs Committee. The “Veterans Diversion Program” aims to steer nonviolent offenders who are also veterans away from the criminal justice system and into treatment and case management as quickly as possible.

Sen. Diane Allen’s legislation would steer certain nonviolent offenders who are also veterans away from the state’s criminal justice system and into treatment. (©iStock)

“As many as one in six veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are coping with addiction, while 300,000 soldiers are battling PTSD and major depression,” Senator Allen said. “As more and more veterans return home to New Jersey, the need to provide treatment for mental illness and substance abuse related to military service will only increase. This program will enable law enforcement, the courts and health professionals to better serve those who have served our country.”

Senator Allen’s bill, S-307, directs the Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs create a single point of entry for active duty service members and veterans to access screening, counseling, treatment and case management for mental health issues, substance abuse and co-occurring health disorders.

Every year, 90,000 individuals released from U.S. jails are veterans, the majority of whom were incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. New Jersey is home to more than 413,000 veterans, underscoring a clear need for Senator Allen’s measure to prevent recidivism by expanding access to comprehensive care.

S-307 would require law enforcement officers to inquire about a person’s veteran status as soon as that individual is taken into custody for an eligible offense. If this person indicates that he or she is a service member, the law enforcement officer should proceed with a preference of diverting the veteran into treatment, instead of filing a criminal complaint or criminal court proceedings.

If a criminal complaint is filed, the courts would now have the ability to postpone court proceedings while an eligible service member participates in mental health intervention services.  If, after a minimum of six months, the prosecutor is satisfied that the service member is making progress and has complied with the terms of the agreement, the prosecutor can move for the dismissal of all criminal charges.

Currently, the courts utilize the Veterans Assistance Project to identify veterans who enter the criminal justice program and provide referrals to various community services or mentors.

A referral without clear direction on how to access services leaves many veterans in need without a clear pathway to treatment, Senator Allen added.

“We know that many returning veterans are indirectly led to criminal behavior in part because of the enormous struggles they face while coping with PTSD,” Senator Allen added. “Blocking veterans from accessing critically-needed care is a disservice that takes for granted the tremendous sacrifices they have made in defense of our nation.”

S-307 is among many New Jersey Senate Republicans bills to fight for equal opportunities for the disabled, and protections and care for those who safeguard our nation from harm.

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