People who have committed nonviolent, petty offenses and have a prior diagnosis of mental illness would be eligible to enter a statewide mental illness diversion program under a bill that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday.
The push by state officials and advocates to assist people with diagnosed mental health disorders comes as over 40% of people in state prisons nationwide report one or more diagnosed mental health condition. If the bill is signed into law, the program would divert eligible people from the criminal justice system and into mental health services that provide screening, counseling and treatment. Only about one-fourth of people in state prisons nationally have received professional help for mental health since entering prison, according to a June 2022 report from the Prison Policy Initiative.
In New Jersey, at least six counties have developed mental health diversion programs, according to Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), a primary sponsor of the bill. These counties include Essex, Mercer, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Union and Warren. Ocean County also has a mental health diversion program.
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