What is it?
Consistent with N.J.S.A. 2C:43-24, the Union County Veterans Diversion Program (VDP) provides certain eligible veterans who are charged with specific non-violent crimes the opportunity to obtain rehabilitative treatment in lieu of participating in the traditional criminal justice process. The program involves supervision and monitoring of a veteran’s treatment by an approved treatment provider, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, other partner agencies, and in some instances, the court. The goals are to protect the public; reduce veteran contacts with the criminal justice system; reduce the number of incarcerated veterans; reduce costs to the public; and provide services and support for veterans.
Who is eligible?
Participants must meet the statutory requirements set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-25 and N.J.S.A. 2C:43-26 to be admitted to and remain in the VDP. To be eligible for the VDP, the applicant must be an active or former member of the United States Armed Forces and meet the eligibility requirements for VA or military benefits. Individuals wishing to be considered for VDP must provide documentation or information that verifies their status.
After service is verified, an applicant must have a mental illness or condition that may have caused or contributed to the commission of the charged offense. A “mental illness” is defined under the New Jersey Veterans Diversion Statute as “a mental disorder classified within the current version of the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and includes but is not limited to anxiety disorders, cognitive disorders, adjustment disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, (and/or) post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”
Only non-violent third- or fourth-degree crimes, disorderly persons offenses, or petty disorderly persons offenses are eligible for diversion under this program. While a defendant may meet the minimum eligibility requirements set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-25 and N.J.S.A. 2C:43-26, the decision to accept the defendant into the program is at the sole discretion of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, after consideration of the crime charged, examination of the defendant’s current and past criminal history, defendant’s amenability to treatment and rehabilitation, availability of recommended resources, treatment through the VA, and the desires of individuals impacted by the defendant’s actions.
Are there requirements for participation?
If accepted into the VDP, veterans are expected to regularly attend and participate in counseling and, when applicable, receive mental health or substance abuse treatment in accordance with the VDP conditions and comply with all other conditions.
A defendant accepted into the VDP shall agree to the conditions set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:43-26, as well as conditions required by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the court when applicable. The conditions may include but not be limited to:
- Participate in case management and mental health services through the VA or other approved treatment provider, and comply with any recommended course of treatment;
- Authorize any case management or treatment provider to release periodic status reports regarding the admitted defendant’s participation to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and when applicable the court;
- Cooperate with case management service providers to procure housing, education, and employment services, when appropriate;
- Pay restitution for damages resulting from the offense(s);
- Refrain from the use of alcohol or illegal narcotics, or frequenting any place where such items are sold or used;
- Refrain from the possession or use of firearms or other weapons;
- Refrain from any further criminal activity;
- Refrain from any contact with a victim of the offense;
- Cooperate with a designated mentor, if assigned;
- Advise the Union County Prosecutor’s Office of any change in address or change in case management or treatment provider; and
- Comply with any other terms and conditions set forth by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office in the interest of the defendant’s recovery and public safety.
How is treatment obtained?
Since eligibility to the VDP is predicated upon an illness or condition causing or contributing to a veteran’s commission of an offense, the admitted veteran must seek and participate in mental health or addiction counseling and treatment as recommended or ordered. A participating veteran, with the assistance of counsel, must take steps to receive necessary treatment with the VA. Additionally, treatment may be supplemented (or in limited cases, substituted) through approved private mental health or addiction counseling and treatment at the discretion of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
As a condition of the VDP, periodic counseling and treatment updates must be obtained by the VA and other treatment providers. Updates and reports must be provided in writing to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. It is the responsibility of the veteran to make sure that these updates or reports are forwarded by the VA or other treatment provider in a format approved by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.
In an effort to expand the services available to an applicant or participant, it should be noted that if defendant is not participating in appropriate VA services and these services are not available within 30 days of application, the applicant must meet the requirements of the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Jail Diversion Program (JDP) to be admitted into the VDP. In addition, if defendant is not already engaged with a case management service and a case manager is not available through the VA, case management will be provided through JDP if defendant is found appropriate.
Initial evaluations will be conducted through the Union County Prosecutor’s Office’s JDP partnerships to ensure timely and locally relevant recommendations and may be supplemented by an evaluation conducted by the VA.
A veteran who successfully completes the terms and conditions of this program to the satisfaction of the prosecutor, as long as he or she has not been the subject of any subsequent criminal charges and continues to make progress with mental health and/or substance abuse treatment, shall have his or her charges dismissed.
Who do you contact?
Attorneys who believe their clients may qualify for this program should complete the Union County Prosecutor’s Office Jail Diversion/Veteran Diversion Referral Form available here and in all Union County criminal courtrooms. The completed form can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or faxed to 908-558-2594, Attn: Special Offenders Unit.
To obtain additional information regarding veterans services and programs in Union County go online to ucnj.org/uc-hero/.