Lawmakers in New Jersey are set to consider a new bill that would create a program for individuals who commit a crime that is non-violent due to being addicted to gambling. A court diversion option similar to what is offered in Nevada is currently on the table. Those who suffer from addiction would be able to seek help instead of being sent to jail. The prime sponsor of the measure is Assemblyman Ralph R. Caputo.
Details of the Bill
According to Caputo, if you can get an individual into treatment, it is better than sending the person to prison. Proponents of the measure feel that the new program would address a problem currently in New Jersey connected to gambling addiction. Online gambling has increased since sports betting was introduced as well as once employees started working from home or became jobless due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is estimated that 6.3% of bettors in the state have a gambling problem. This is larger than the national average due to the availability as well as the accessibility of gambling in the state. Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey executive director Neva Pryor commented that since the pandemic began, the number of calls to the helpline has risen. Around 20% of those calls are connected to sports betting.
With the measure, the treatment option would help the individual with the gambling problem, as they most likely behaved illegally due to the addiction. Many times, an individual suffering from gambling addiction will steal to pay to gamble or get rid of gambling debt.
The new bill is now before the Assembly Judiciary Committee for consideration. It must move forward to have a shot at becoming law. A pilot program would start in three courtrooms. One would be located in North, Central, and South Jersey.
As the proposal stands now, a judge and health professionals would be in charge of determining if the individual qualifies for the program. The other option is to require other consequences due to the nature of the crime.
If legalized, the program would offer one to three years of treatment for the individual. Regular progress reports must be provided to ensure the individual is on the path to recovery. The individual would also be required to provide restitution to victims that were affected by their criminal behavior. If possible, the individual must also pay for the treatment provided.
If an individual starts the program and does not complete it, they will return to court. The goal is to help those with an addiction recover, instead of just sending them to prison where the addiction can continue. In the prison system, gambling takes place in many forms, so sending a person with an addiction to jail would only exacerbate the problem instead of solving the behavior behind the crime in the first place.
There will be exclusions regarding who is eligible for the program. Anyone who commits a crime against a child or faces any violent crime allegations will not be able to take part.