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Mentally-Challenged Defendants to Get Jail Options under Pilot Project

Defendants with diagnosed mental health disorders will have options besides jail cells, under terms of an unprecented state pilot program that will use Ocean County as its test grounds.

Information from the office of Acting New Jersey Attorney General John J. Hoffman today announced the two-year project  for treatment and counseling to qualified individuals, some of whom also might have concomitant substance-abuse problems.

The Prosecutor-Led Mental Health Pilot Program is being funded with $150,000 through his office and another $50,000 of County money.

Essex County is also being accorded the grant.

According to a news release, eligibility will be based on screenings of identified mental health and/or substance abuse obstacles. Those allowed entry will be monitored by case managers for compliance to treatment, counseling and medication. Case managers issue regular findings to prosecutors, defense lawyers and court officials.

The nature and severity of the crime and prior criminal records will also be determining factors. Hoffman cites research indicating that about 25 percent of inmates with mental health challenges have been behind bars at least three times, and about 75 percent are substance abusers.

“Diversionary programs such as this one focus on getting help for those who need it most,” Hoffman said in a prepared release. He calls it a cost-effective alternative to prison that can lead to lower recidivism rates than those of the general inmate population.

“The people of Ocean County will benefit greatly from the timely and appropriate attention to the mental health needs of the selected program participants,” Coronato said in the news release.

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