N.J. could set up mandatory drug treatment for nonviolent offenders within a year

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is hoping to have a mandatory drug treatment program for nonviolent offenders in place within a year.

The governor’s proposed budget plan allocates $2.5 million for the program. Speaking Thursday at the Trenton Rescue Mission, Christie said inpatient treatment will be about half the cost of housing an inmate in New Jersey’s prison system.

“In the long run, it will help us financially. No question as a state it will help us, but that’s not the only reason to do it,” Christie said. “It will also help us because it will make us a better society. It will reclaim families.”

The chief operating officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies agrees with the governor that treatment can help reclaim lives.

“Giving someone the opportunity to try for a life of recovery versus a life of incarceration is an amazing opportunity that some people never would have had otherwise,” Debra Wentz said.

And inmates with an addiction who don’t get treatment often return to drug use when they’re released from prison and commit other crimes, said state Attorney General Jeff Chiesa.

“In some of those situations we’re putting law enforcement in an unnecessary dangerous place, and instead what we should be doing is treating these folks so they can re-enter our society as productive members,” Chiesa said. “In many cases, that’s what can happen.”

While the state is setting up the mandatory treatment program, the governor will give the more than 1,000 nonviolent drug offenders already in the prison system the opportunity to participate in it voluntarily.

Christie said he hopes the program will be one of the legacies of his administration.

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