Drug Courts

The mission of drug courts is to stop the abuse of alcohol and other drugs and related criminal activity. Drug courts are a highly specialized team process within the existing Superior Court structure that addresses nonviolent drug-related cases. They are unique in the criminal justice environment because they build a close collaborative relationship between criminal justice and drug treatment professionals.

The drug court judge heads a team of court staff, attorneys, probation officers, substance abuse evaluators and treatment professionals who work together to support and monitor a participant's recovery. They maintain a critical balance of authority, supervision, support and encouragement.

Drug court programs are rigorous, requiring intensive supervision based on frequent drug testing and court appearances, along with tightly structured regimens of treatment and recovery services. This level of supervision permits the program to support the recovery process, but also allows supervisors to react swiftly to impose appropriate therapeutic sanctions or to reinstate criminal proceedings when participants cannot comply with the program.

Drug court programs are characterized by:

  • Collaborative links among the courts, prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement, treatment providers, social service agencies and community-based non-profit organizations;
  • A standardized assessment process used to identify eligible non-violent offenders;
  • Staff members trained in substance abuse and recovery issues operating in a non-adversarial atmosphere.
  • A system of graduated sanctions and incentives to encourage recovery goals and hold offenders accountable for non-compliant behaviors.
  • Continuing training and education on a state and national level for drug court professionals;
  • On-going program evaluation and implementation of improvements as warranted.

The New Jersey Adult Drug Court History

Drug courts began in New Jersey in 1996 when Camden and Essex Superior Courts started accepting participants. These local projects evolved into well defined drug court programs that have paved the way for additional pilot program efforts. By 1999 additional programs were established in Mercer, Passaic and Union Counties. The New Jersey drug court model was developed through the hard work and dedication of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, drug court professionals, substance abuse evaluators and probation officers.

In 1999, the Chief Justice asked the Conference of Criminal Presiding Judges to review the existing adult drug courts to determine whether drug courts were a “best practice” in the Criminal Division and the potential for expansion. In May 2000, the Conference of Criminal Presiding Judges recommended drug courts as a “best practice” and in June of the same year the Judicial Council adopted drug courts as a “best practice” and called for a comprehensive statewide proposal. Issues of equal access and fundamental fairness required that the Judiciary produce a plan for expansion of drug courts to all counties in the state.

In December 2000 the Judiciary released a document entitled Drug Courts: A Plan for Statewide Implementation proposing statewide implementation of adult drug courts based on the success of the pilot initiatives. On Sept. 6, 2001, Legislation L.2001, c.243 was signed by the Governor. That law provided the Judiciary with funding to expand drug courts beyond the initial five courts. The plan involved a three-phased process resulting in the establishment of a statewide drug court system. New Jersey drug courts will focus on substance-abusing criminal offenders who are charged with non-violent offenses and who do not have prior convictions for violent crimes.

Statewide Implementation Project

Phase I: Involved the transfer of the pilot drug courts from grant funding to direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey

Phase II: Began on April 2, 2002, when five new drug court programs, in Bergen, Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem, Monmouth, Morris/Sussex and Ocean Vicinages became operational.

Phase III: The remaining five court vicinages in Atlantic/Cape May, Burlington, Hudson, Middlesex and Somerset/Hunterdon/Warren became operational on September 1, 2004

Mandatory Drug Court

P.L. 2012, c. 23, was signed into law by Governor Christie on July 19, 2012 to expand the existing voluntary Drug Court to compel additional drug offenders into the program with the promise of intervening in the lives of an additional population of offenders, those who are initially resistant to addressing their substance abuse problem through the voluntary Drug Court admission process.

As outlined in Section III: Drug Court Expansion Projects, the "Special Probation" statute was amended, effective 7/1/13, to require admission to the Drug Court program of otherwise eligible offenders regardless of whether they made a voluntary application. The "Special Probation" statute, N.J.S.A. 2C; 35-14, was amended and two sections added N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14-1 and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14-2. The Drug Court project is to be phased into the statewide adult drug court program in five phases as follows:

  • 7/1/13: Vicinage 6: Hudson; Vicinage 13: Somerset/Hunterdon/Warren; and Vicinage 14: Ocean.
  • 7/1/14: Vicinage 1: Atlantic/Cape May; Vicinage 7: Mercer; and Vicinage 11: Passaic.
  • 7/1/15: Vicinage 2: Bergen; Vicinage 3: Burlington; and Vicinage 9: Monmouth.

The scheduled implementation is contingent upon sufficient state Drug Court special purpose funding.

For more information, contact the Administrative Office of the Courts, Criminal Practice Division, Statewide Coordination, P.O. Box 982, Trenton, New Jersey 08625 or the drug court coordinators in the vicinages with operational programs.