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Governor, in veto, recommends barring sex offenders from mental health diversion programs

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Governor, in veto, recommends barring sex offenders from mental health diversion programs

Nov 29, 2023 | 11:36 am ET
By Dana DiFilippo
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Governor, in veto, recommends barring sex offenders from mental health diversion programs
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Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) requested a conditional veto to cement language in her legislation to bar people charged with Megan's Law-triggering offenses from mental health diversion programs. (Photo courtesy of N.J. Governor’s Office)

Gov. Phil Murphy this week conditionally vetoed a bill that would expand an intervention program to divert some nonviolent criminal defendants to mental health programs, with Murphy recommending lawmakers bar people arrested for sex offenses subject to Megan’s Law.

Lawmakers narrowly passed the bill in June along party lines, with Republicans warning it would push violent offenders onto the street.

Murphy issued a statement on Monday supporting the spirit of the bill, saying: “Mental health issues should not be unnecessarily criminalized.”

“This bill ensures that individuals whose criminal behaviors are a result of mental disorders are provided therapeutic services while still being held accountable for their actions,” Murphy wrote.

But he objected to its language that excludes only first-degree crimes from the program, leaving second-degree and violent crimes, including offenses that trigger Megan’s Law, “presumptively ineligible, subject to prosecutor review.” He recommended lawmakers revise the bill to make Megan’s Law-triggering crimes “categorically ineligible.”

Murphy noted that bill sponsor Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) requested the change to the bill.

“If in fact there was any appearance of a loophole, this secures the intent of the bill,” Ruiz told the New Jersey Monitor.

The legislation would expand mental health diversion programs that exist in five New Jersey counties to three new court jurisdictions. The programs function like recovery court, allowing criminal offenders with mental health disorders to avoid jail time and, if they graduate from the program, have their charges expunged.