Governor Chris Christie said he wants to stop “warehousing” non-violent drug offenders in New Jersey prisons because the state pays three times more on incarceration than for addiction treatment.
Each drug offender costs the state $39,000 a year to imprison, compared with $12,000 for treatment, Christie, a first-term Republican, told a crowd gathered at a church in Irvington, a Newark suburb.
“Let’s get people out of the regular jails and put them for a year in secure facilities where they can actually get drug treatment,” Christie, 49, said at the public forum. “We need to teach people how to deal with their addictions, and not have them dependent on drugs.”
The town-hall meeting was Christie’s second since he proposed an across-the-board 10 percent income-tax cut in his annual State of the State speech this week. He also listed overhauling education and focusing on urban communities as other 2012 priorities.
Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, a Democrat from East Orange whose district doesn’t include Irvington, said she’ll work with Christie on the drug-policy changes.
“I’ve been on that soapbox for 30 or 35 years, so I’m not a newcomer to this discussion,” Oliver said. “This is the right thing to do and it’s something that has plagued us.”
Oliver, who sat in a front row as Christie spoke at the meeting, said she’s glad to see him holding one of the forums in an urban community. Irvington is represented in the Assembly by Democrats Ralph Caputo and Cleopatra Tucker.
The Democrat, who has been critical of Christie’s tax plan, said she’s withholding judgment until Christie’s February budget proposal, to see what effect it may have on school funding and how he would cover any revenue loss. The governor has said a cut won’t hurt education funding.