N.J. begins ‘noble experiment’ in drug treatment for nonviolent offenders

New Jersey’s criminal justice system is taking a new approach to nonviolent drug offenders.

Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill Thursday expanding eligibility for the state’s drug court program so nonviolent, drug-dependent offenders will receive treatment rather than prison time.

He says mandatory drug treatment is better than sending nonviolent offenders to prison.

“I think it’s a much better place for them to spend their time, much more productive place to spend their time, than to be sitting away in a prison cell not being given the tools to deal with their addiction, not being the tools to get a job when they get out, not being the tools to deal with the pressures that civilized society will place on them when they return,” Christie said

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The new law phases in a statewide program over five years, beginning with at least three counties in the first year.

Yearly reports on the program — including completion and revocation rates, recidivism rates and costs — will allow the governor and the Legislature to see if the new approach works, says Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Union.

“Those who are forced into it … could hurt the recovery of those who choose to be there, but on the other hand it’s also possible that those to choose to be there can have a good effect on those who are forced into it,” Lesniak said Thursday. “We don’t know. This is a noble experiment.”

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