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

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.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal