N.J. drug court changes take shape

    New Jersey lawmakers took a more modest step forward Monday to support Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to expand the state’s drug court program.

    Christie’s administration is selling the drug court expansion as part of a plan to “break the cycle of crime and addiction.” The governor wants to make treatment mandatory for all nonviolent offenders with an addiction problem.

    Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says forcing care on those who aren’t ready for treatment could lower the program’s success rate, and increase its cost.

    “Right now, drug courts cherry-pick the people that are the most likely to succeed,” Scotti said. “You can think that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s the facts. What the governor is considering is putting everyone in, no matter what their likelihood of success.”

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    Scotti also wonders whether it makes sense to provide care to unwilling offenders when the state can’t meet the demand for addiction help now.

    “If those are people that don’t want to go, why should they get a year of treatment when there’s people begging to get into treatment?” Scotti said.

    Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-Mercer, said mandatory drug court participation is better public policy for offenders.

    “[People] who would be incarcerated and released from incarceration without having corrected the situation and would probably end up right back on the same track again,” Watson Coleman said.

    She wants to test out mandatory treatment at two sites — and now the Assembly Judiciary Committee has approved the bill. The proposal goes to the budget committee next.

    A Christie spokesman says state Sen. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, is working on a bill that reflects the governor’s vision.

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