FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — A new program is being launched in one part of New Jersey to help people who have been charged with nonviolent crimes break the cycle of drug addiction.

The state already helps low-level drug offenders through Drug Courts, which mandate substance abuse treatment. But this new program helps people who have been arrested but have not yet gone to trial.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden said the Next Step program “allows substance abuse recovery specialists and clinicians to work inside our facility and provide a treatment plan and recovery for inmates upon release who would otherwise end up on the streets with no direction or necessary services.”

He said Next Step, which is the first program of its kind launched in the Garden State, is needed because “incarcerated individuals with substance abuse disorder are among the highest at-risk population for drug overdose deaths when released from jails.”

He pointed out 3 in 4 inmates in correctional facilities in New Jersey have some type of substance abuse disorder. When they’re released they don’t have any type of support or recovery planning in place.

Golden stressed this kind of service is particularly important for non-violent offenders who are now routinely released from custody under the state’s new bail reform laws while they await trial.

He said by working at the jail three days a week, “our certified recovery specialists and clinicians will ensure that inmates entering the facility are screened prior to being released in their departure.”

Once inmates arrive at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution, Lifeline Recovery Support Services and the New Jersey Reentry Corporation — which is led by former Gov. Jim McGreevey — will provide certified recovery specialists to review their histories and set up assistance plans.

Former Gov. Jim McGreevey. David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ
Former Gov. Jim McGreevey. David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni said when someone is first sent to jail it’s a ripe opportunity “to convince someone to accept vital and necessary drug treatment that in many regards will hopefully save their lives.”

He stressed with Next Step, “we can further fulfill our number one sworn mandate, and that is to protect and save lives.”

Gramiccioni said opioid abuse, including the use of heroin, continues to be a major problem and a multi-pronged approach is necessary to address it.

“Breaking this cycle of addiction will go far in reducing the rate of re-arrest, thereby saving valuable police and prosecutorial resources, all while lessoning the burden on the criminal justice system.”

McGreevey, chairman of the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, said the program fills a gap, allowing inmates with substance abuse disorders to be linked with vitally important services and treatment “so that person will have the greatest opportunity for sobriety.”

“This is a portal, this is a gateway for opportunity for those persons in Monmouth County, and hopefully it will be a model for other counties," McGreevey said.

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