By: Admin_Mike30 Jan 2012
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is taking the lead on a national issue with a proposal that could change the way that state judicial systems deal with drug abuse. In his recent State of the State Address, the governor suggested that every nonviolent offender with a serious substance abuse problem undergo mandatory treatment. The governor then took his proposal one step further and suggested that treatment should take the place of a prison sentence. Speaking to those who would be affected by the proposal, Governor Christie said, "We want to help you, not throw you away. We will require you to get treatment. Your life has value."
The governor stated that he understands that addiction is a disease that touches nearly every family in New Jersey in one way or another. He also stated that when drug and alcohol abusers enter the prison system, there are released back into a life of substance abuse, crime and re-arrest. For many, incarceration becomes a revolving door that never addresses the underlying cause for arrest. A 2009 study of New Jersey prisons estimated that 62% of New Jersey's prison population has a moderate to severe drug problem.
Governor Christies' proposal includes expansion of the state's drug court system to every county in the state. Approximately 7,000 non-violent drug offenders in New Jersey would be affected. The drug court program includes treatment and recovery services coupled with intensive supervision, drug testing and frequent court appearances. Participants who can't comply with the drug court program are subject to therapeutic actions or criminal prosecution.
A 2011 New Jersey Drug Court report stated that the rate of re-arrest within 3 years for drug court graduates is 16%, compared to a rate of 54% for drug offenders who are released from prison. Governor Christie also pointed out that his proposal is cost effective. Sending offenders to drug court for treatment is two-thirds less expensive than incarceration.
Above all, Governor Christie emphasized the human cost of prison in terms of lost productivity and the breakup of families. Saying that everyone deserves a second chance, he also mentioned employment and education initiatives that will help drug court graduates transition into law-abiding, productive lives free from substance abuse.
The New Jersey office of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence provided data in the form of a policy paper that supports the governor's call for treatment instead of incarceration.