Legislation sponsored by Senator Diane Allen (R-Burlington) to provide greater support for veterans struggling with addiction or mental illness was advanced by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“When they return from service, so many veterans struggle with health conditions like PTSD, addiction and serious depression,” Senator Allen said. “If these combat-related afflictions lead to some kind of criminal behavior, the person should have a chance to get the treatment they need rather than just sit in jail.”
— Senator Diane Allen (@dianeallennj) December 5, 2016
The bill, S-307, establishes a statewide Veterans Diversion Program to divert active duty service members and veterans away from the criminal justice system as early as possible following an interaction with law enforcement. The purpose is to increase access to screening, counseling, treatment and case management for mental health issues, substance abuse and co-occurring health disorders.
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. However, a referral without clear direction on how to access services could still leave many veterans in need.
“This program will enable law enforcement, the courts and health professionals to better serve those who have served our country,” Senator Allen said. “These individuals fought for us, and as long as they are non-violent, they deserve a chance to get better instead of being incarcerated.”