Governor Phil Murphy signed into law S524 (Ruiz)/A1700 (Quijano), which creates Mental Health Diversion Programs to divert eligible persons away from the criminal justice system and into appropriate case management and mental health services. The New Jersey State Bar Association supported the bill and actively testified for its passage.
“Our communities and families do not benefit when individuals are arrested and incarcerated for symptoms of their mental illness,” said Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz, the prime Senate sponsor of the bill. “The growing mental health crisis in New Jersey requires a comprehensive mental health solution. With the signing of this bill, we will ensure that those individuals with serious mental health challenges get the treatment, supervision, and the services that they need, rather than being trapped in the criminal justice system.”
The bill was conditionally vetoed by the Governor with recommendations to remove from eligibility those who are charged with Megan’s Law triggering crimes. As enacted, the bill would create three regions in the state and assign one vicinage per region to begin the implementation of a Mental Health Diversion Program. Eligible persons are defined as having committed nonviolent crimes in the third and fourth degree, with prosecutorial discretion to admit others in the program on a case-by-case basis. First-degree crimes and Megan’s Law triggering second-degree crimes are not eligible for the program.
“The law underwent many revisions and much debate to balance fairness to criminal defendants with the public’s interest for justice. Thanks to the careful consideration of the Legislature and governor – and the hard work of Sen. Teresa Ruiz, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and their staffs – this law accomplishes both. It will do wonders to improve the health and well-being of those with mental health disorders, while creating a safer society and reducing the cost of incarceration borne by the taxpayer,” said NJSBA President Timothy F. McGoughran.
Under the new law, mental health professionals will evaluate and create treatment plans and the cases will be overseen by judges throughout the process through regularly scheduled Mental Health Team Meetings. The Attorney General’s office will be responsible for establishing the services and treatment professionals.
This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters. To learn more, visit njsba.com.