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Will New Jersey enact expanded drug court? Stay tuned.

A 31-year-old Tom's River native is hoping to become the poster child for an expanded drug court program. Alan Cotugno has been arrested at least 35 times for drug crimes and related offenses and served about 7 years in prison or jail. He believes that drug court will allow him to get the treatment he needs to conquer his addiction and has written New Jersey governor Chris Christie to tell him so. However, if the legislature and governor cannot agree on a program, Cotugno's opportunity may slip away.

He currently does not qualify for drug court because his most recent offenses included burglary and eluding, offenses not included in current eligibility requirements. In the past, when he might have qualified, he didn't want the opportunity to get clean that drug court provided. However, a bill sponsored by Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) offers hope to people like Cotugno.

The proposal expands the types of offenses that could make someone eligible for drug court, and that is what Cotugno and inmates like him are hoping for. However, it still might be a stretch for Cotugno, because his long criminal record and years of addiction increase the probability that he would not complete the program successfully.

His situation is complicated by competition between different prosecutors. Cotugno was arrested in Morris County, but later charged with burglaries in Fairfield, Essex and Bergen counties. Bergen County is willing to recommend Cotugno for drug court, but Morris and Essex counties want him to serve time.

A spokesman for Governor Christie noted that under the governor's proposal, Cotugno would probably not be eligible for drug court because of the eluding charge. But Cotugno remains optimistic and believes that, "God's got a plan for me because I'm not dead."

Source: NJ.com, "N.J. inmate is one of many hoping state expands eligibility for drug court," by MaryAnn Spoto, Apr. 29, 2012.

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