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Healthcare not Handcuffs: Putting the Affordable Care Act to Work for Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Reform

December 17, 2013

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) sets the stage for a new health-oriented policy framework to address substance use and mental health disorders. By dramatically expanding and funding healthcare coverage to millions of currently uninsured people, the ACA represents a remarkable opportunity for criminal justice and drug policy reform advocates to advance efforts for policies promoting safe and healthy communities, without excessive reliance on the criminal justice solutions that have become so prevalent under the War on Drugs. This paper is intended as a starting framework for criminal justice and drug policy advocates to navigate the ACA, and to take advantage of the conceptual and practical opportunities it offers for shifting the conversation and the landscape. Part One of this paper describes some of the major provisions of the ACA relevant to our work: the health insurance requirement; the places many people will buy insurance, called health exchanges; Medicaid expansion; insurance coverage requirements for substance use and mental health disorders; and opportunities for improved models of coordinated care. Part Two of this paper outlines a series of practical recommendations, including program and policy examples and suggested action steps, across three broad categories: ensuring access to healthcare, leveraging the ACA to reduce incarceration, and moving from a criminilization-based drug policy approach to one rooted in health.

Beyond Zero Tolerance: A Reality-Based Approach to Drug Education and School Discipline

September 10, 2013

Beyond Zero Tolerance is a comprehensive, cost-effective approach to secondary school drug education and school discipline that is all about helping teenagers by bolstering the student community and educational environment. This innovative model combines honest, reality-based information with interactive learning, compassionate assistance, and restorative practices in lieu of exclusionary punishment.

New Jersey Jail Population Analysis: Identifying Opportunities to Safely and Responsibly Reduce the Jail Population

March 1, 2013

The current study was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance for the purpose of examining the New Jersey jail population and developing a population profile. The population profile is intended to describe the population in terms of demographics, custody status, offense characteristics, bail status, and any other relevant information. The goal of the study is to use this profile to identify opportunities to responsibly reduce New Jersey's jail population while maintaining public safety and the integrity of the judicial process.To conduct the study, data were requested and received from the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts ("AOC"). The AOC maintains the County Corrections Information System (CCIS) for which 19 of the 21 counties contribute inmate data (Bergen and Passaic counties do not provide data to CCIS). In addition, an informal survey was conducted of all county correctional facilities and the New Jersey Department of Corrections' Office of County Services (NJDOC-OCS) was consulted to obtain more detailed information on the individual jail facilities.The current report includes a description of the NJCJS, an overview of criminal justice system trends and key stakeholder agencies, a detailed population profile, and a summary of findings.

Healing a Broken System: Veterans and the War on Drugs

November 9, 2012

This report examines the plight of returning veterans who struggle with incarceration and psychological wounds of war such as addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder -- and suggests reforms that could improve the health and preserve the freedom of American soldiers returning from war zones and transitioning back to civilian life. Roughly 30 percent of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, depression, mental illness or other cognitive disability. Left untreated, these medical conditions often contribute to substance misuse and addiction, fatal overdose, homelessness and suicide, as well as violations of the law, particularly nonviolent drug offenses. This report recommends alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenses, increased access to overdose prevention programs and medication-assisted therapy, and research evaluating innovative treatment modalities such as medical marijuana and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy.

Crime and Punishment in New Jersey: The Criminal Code and Public Opinion on Sentencing

March 31, 2011

In 1978, the New Jersey Legislature enacted its Code of Criminal Justice (codified as Title 2C), followed by a host of amendments to the Code before it took effect in 1979.New Jersey's code, along with the criminal codes of at least 33 other states, is modeled on the Model Penal Code of the American Law Institute. Title 2C, like other Model-Code-based codes, is meant to be relatively comprehensive; that is, included in its offenses and suboffensesis most criminal conduct, and certainly all serious criminal conduct. Yet extensive legislative activity since 1979 has dramatically increased the number of offenses and suboffenses beyond the 243 of the original code.Today's Title 2C contains an additional 407 offenses and suboffenses -- for a total of 650. In addition, there are now 904 criminal offenses in New Jersey law defined outside of the Code of Criminal Justice.Unfortunately, the stream of code amendments have paid little attention to already-existing offenses or their grades, resulting in a system of offenses marked by inconsistent and contradictory grading differences, as well as offense grades that seriously conflict with the values of New Jersey residents. One of the greatest drafting advances of modern criminal codes -- one now used even by jurisdictions (and countries) that did not otherwise have a modern criminal code -- is the creation of a system of offense grading. Under grading schemes, each offense is categorized into one of several grading categories that distinguish offenses according to their level of seriousness. New Jersey adopted four degrees of crimes (1st through 4th degree) and two degrees of disorderly persons offenses (disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons). Later, a "super grade" category was added to mark out the most egregious crimes.As will become apparent from the analysis below, the New Jersey Code's grading scheme, probably flawed from the start, has become increasingly irrational in its categorizations and unfair in its application.