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Joe Pennacchio

Posted on: December 12, 2023

Pennacchio: Democrats’ Legislation Gives Criminals ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ Card

Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) released the following statement after S-524 was approved yesterday by the New Jersey Senate:

“Trenton Democrats just passed legislation that would give individual prosecutors the authority to divert almost any offender into a Mental Health Diversion Program prior to prosecution without the input of a judge,” said Pennacchio. “Under the bill, there would be no jail time, even for most violent crimes, the offender’s record would be eligible for expungement, and there would be no limit to the number of times an individual could reenter the program. This legislation will put public safety at risk and dramatically weaken the justice system for victims of crimes.”

S-524 creates a so-called “Mental Health Diversion Program” that gives prosecutors unbridled authority to divert violent criminals away from the criminal justice system without jail and without a judge.

In order to be eligible for the program, an offender must be diagnosed with a “mental disorder,” which under the bill can include conditions as common as depression.

Notably, the above determination is not made by the court, or a medical professional, but instead outsourced to a social worker. What’s worse, the social worker is authorized to make this determination remotely, e.g., by only “meeting with” the offender over Zoom.

The bill would also:

  • Give prosecutors sole discretion to make most crimes eligible for the Mental Health Diversion Program, including second-degree crimes, violent crimes, arson, weapons offenses, and more.
  • Ensure offenders are treated to a “moving on” or graduation ceremony and that their criminal records are automatically eligible for expungement.
  • Mandate no consequences for a criminal who fails the program and place no limit on the number of times a criminal may renter the program.

You can view the full bill here.

For further comment or background from Sen. Pennacchio, please contact Jonathan Azzara in the SRO communications department.

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