CAMDEN, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie said New Jersey’s 15-year-old drug court program will be expanded as part of a plan to ease inmates’ transitions back to broader society and to get help for addicts who are involved in many crimes.
The move came with an admission from the Republican governor. The so-called “War on Drugs,” which brought harsh penalties to drug offenders, hasn’t worked, he said.
“We’re missing the best in terms of how we can help these folks turn their lives around,” he said. “We think that somehow we send a person who is drug addicted to prison, they’re going to lose their drug addiction.”
Speaking at Cathedral Kitchen, a Camden institution that operates both a soup kitchen for the needy and a culinary training school for former offenders, Christie said the expanded measures could save taxpayers’ money by sending fewer offenders to prison, cut down on future crimes and create better citizens.
He signed an executive order outlining the changes later Monday.
He also said he will appoint a member of his staff to oversee prisoner re-entry programs along with the chairman of the state Parole Board.
The drug courts, which have been running in New Jersey since 1996, give some non-violent offenders an option to be in drug-treatment and testing programs— often instead of jail sentences. Convicts in drug court still have criminal records.
The major change, which Christie wants to initially try in two counties, would allow judges to sentence offenders to treatment programs instead of prison. Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said that would get addicts who are in denial help that they may need. Currently, those charged with crimes have to ask to have their cases handled in drug court to be enrolled.
The programs, which generally last three to five years, also offer links to other services such as job training and literacy classes for those who need them.