Assembly Panel Advances Vainieri Huttle, Mukherji and Sumter Bill Package to Overhaul Delivery of Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services in Prison

Assembly Panel Advances Vainieri Huttle, Mukherji and Sumter Bill Package to Overhaul Delivery of Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services in Prison

Bills Would Address Underlying Problems, Boost Long-Term Outcomes, Break Cycle of Recidivism & Save Taxpayer Money

(TRENTON) – An Assembly panel on Tuesday approved a package of bills sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Raj Mukherji and Shavonda Sumter to overhaul the delivery of substance abuse and mental health treatment throughout the state’s prison system in order to improve long-term outcomes for the incarcerated and save taxpayer dollars.

The bills are part of a comprehensive 20 bill package that was introduced in September to address the growing opiate and heroin addiction crisis.

The first bill (A-3721), sponsored by Vainieri Huttle and Mukherji, is designed to broaden Medicaid coverage in New Jersey to qualified individuals by reaching out to them through various stages of the state’s criminal justice system.

“Addiction and mental health issues often go hand-in-hand with incarceration,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).  “You can’t treat these underlying health issues with incarceration alone.  These bills takes a pragmatic and cost-effective approach to ensuring more inmates get the treatment they need while sharing the cost with the federal government so New Jersey residents don’t have to bear the entire brunt of it.”

The sponsors noted that the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released its second report, “Behind Bars II, Substance Abuse and America’s Prison Population,” which found that of the 2.3 million U.S. inmates, 1.5 million suffer from substance abuse addiction and another 458,000 inmates either had histories of substance abuse, were under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of committing their crimes; committed their offenses to get money to buy drugs; were incarcerated for an alcohol or drug violation. Combined, the two groups make up 85 percent of the U.S. prison population.

Under the bill, the Commissioner of Human Services, in consultationwith the Commissioner of Corrections, county welfare agencies,and the county administrators of the county correction facilities,shall establish a process to screen eligible individuals forenrollment in Medicaid following their arrest or indictment, while they are awaiting the court’s decision governing pre-trialrelease.

“Improving access to health coverage will greatly increase the likelihood that these individuals receive the treatment they need,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson).  “Without treatment for their underlying problems, they will continuously be subjected to a vicious cycle of recidivism with little hope for reclaiming or improving their lives.”

The screening and enrollment process shall also be offered to individualswho are not currently Medicaid eligible and are being released froma state prison or county correctional facility on or after thebeginning date of the screening and enrollment process.

The Commissioner of Human Services shall, in consultation with the Commissioner of Corrections and the county administrators of the county correctional facilities, coordinate and provide training to hospital eligibility workers, county welfare agency staff, and designated county correctional facility and state prison intake personnel, on the screening and enrollment process to be used for those individuals who are not currently Medicaid eligible.

The lawmakers also noted that the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse released a first report on substance abuse among the nation’s prison population that found that 65 percent of the nation’s inmates meet certain medical criteria for substance abuse and addiction, but only 11 percent received treatment for their addictions. 

It’s with this in mind that the second bill (A-3722), sponsored by Vainieri Huttle, Sumter and Mukherji, is designed to address prison-based mental health and substance abuse treatment programs.

The bill would require the commissioners of Human Services and Corrections to formulate a plan to provide adequate and appropriate mental health and substance use disorder services to inmates in all state-owned, operated or contracted correctional facilities.

“Treatment offers the best chance for an inmate to break the cycle of incarceration,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic).  “More often than not, it was substance abuse or mental health issues that landed an individual in prison in the first place.  These are health issues and they can’t cure themselves.  If we can ensure more people get treatment and avoid incarceration, we can address a lot of the challenges that plague our society as a whole.”

The plan shall include, but need not be limited to, the following:

1)     Procedures for identifying a person in need of mental health and substance use disorder services when the person is initially admitted and while they are confined therein;

2)     Procedures for providing a mental health and substance use disorder evaluation to determine whether the person is in need of such services;

3)     Procedures for providing adequate and appropriate mental health or substance use disorder treatment to a person determined to be in need;

4)     Enumeration of the types of mental health and substance use disorder treatment that may be provided to a persondetermined to be in need, such as individual or group counseling, treatment with prescription drugs, and increased monitoring as needed to prevent harm to self or others, which

5)     may include confinement in a secure hospital setting;

6)     Procedures for the provision of medication-assisted treatment in substance use disorder treatment programs, as appropriate and available;

7)     Procedures for terminating the treatment provided when it is no longer needed by the person receiving it;

8)     Identifying community mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers and services to assist in a person’s community reintegration upon discharge from a state-owned, operated, or contracted correctional facility;

9)     Procedures for ensuring cooperation between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Human Services at all personnel levels and at every stage of identification, evaluation, treatment , and termination of treatment so that adequate and appropriate mental health and substance use disorder services are provided;

10)Procedures for maintaining the confidentiality of mental health and substance use disorder treatment records; and

11)Procedures for biennial review and revision of the plan.

Under the bill, the Department of Human Services is also authorized to develop a plan to provide mental health and substance use disorder services to inmates in county-operated correctional facilities, in consultation with the county-designated individual or entity charged with the planning of treatment services for county inmates.

The bill would also require that mental health and substance use disorder treatment services in state-owned, operated or contracted facilities, as well as halfway houses, be provided by licensed providers. 

The bills were approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee at a special hearing at Fairleigh Dickinson University.