By: Richard L. Smith
In a major step towards addressing substance use disorder and providing a compassionate alternative to incarceration, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin has announced the launch of the "Opt for Help and Hope" initiative in Paterson.This groundbreaking program, led by prosecutors, is designed to divert individuals arrested for low-level, non-violent crimes toward the path of recovery and support.
Paterson, the first of six New Jersey cities to implement this pilot program, will now see its police officers trained to screen individuals who are arrested for eligibility into the "Opt for Help and Hope" program.
The initiative is being funded with proceeds from a settlement between the Attorney General's Office and consulting firm McKinsey and Company, which was alleged to be involved in the false advertising of opioid products.
It is administered under the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES).
"Opt for Help and Hope" is a voluntary program aimed at providing early intervention for defendants whose non-violent offenses are believed to be linked to substance use.
The program's goal is to minimize the potential negative impact that arrests and convictions can have on individuals striving to recover from addiction. Successful participants who engage meaningfully in recommended services will be eligible to have their municipal charges dismissed.
Attorney General Platkin emphasized the need for compassion over-incarceration, stating, "People who are dependent on narcotics or other substances and commit non-violent crimes need help, not a criminal record that can interfere with their chances of recovering from the disease of addiction."
This initiative marks the first statewide effort focused on offering support services for substance use disorder to municipal court defendants.
It will provide crucial assistance to Paterson residents dealing with substance use disorder at an early stage, preventing their drug-related conduct from escalating to more serious crimes and charges.
Passaic County Prosecutor Valdes explained, "For many, the first entry point into the criminal justice system occurs at the municipal court level. Therefore, it is imperative for all stakeholders to participate sooner rather than later in the restorative process."
Officer in Charge Abbassi emphasized the importance of providing help to those dealing with addiction and expressed hope that this program would be a valuable tool for police officers.
The "Opt for Help and Hope" program will also be implemented in five other municipal courts selected based on an assessment of existing drug-related data and resources.
These include the Central Municipal Court of Atlantic County, Pemberton Municipal Court, East Orange Municipal Court, Hamilton Township Municipal Court, and Franklin Township Municipal Court.Kelly E. Levy, Acting Director of NJ CARES, commended the efforts of the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office and expressed optimism about the program's impact on at-risk municipal court defendants, stating, "I am pleased to see all the hard work of the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office culminate in the launch of their Opt for Help and Hope program."