Inquirer Editorial: Compassionate approach to fighting drugs in N.J.

Governor Chris Christie answers questions at the National Guard Armory during a town hall meeting, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 in Vineland, N.J.. Sometimes, Gov. Chris Christie's town hall forums are raucous. But Thursday's event in Vineland turned into a more emotional venue where he talked about his plans to send nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Michael Ein)
Governor Chris Christie answers questions at the National Guard Armory during a town hall meeting, Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012 in Vineland, N.J.. Sometimes, Gov. Chris Christie's town hall forums are raucous. But Thursday's event in Vineland turned into a more emotional venue where he talked about his plans to send nonviolent drug offenders to treatment instead of prison. (AP Photo/The Press of Atlantic City, Michael Ein) (AP)
Posted: January 31, 2012

Gov. Christie smartly recognizes that addiction is still winning the 40-year-old war on drugs, so he is changing up New Jersey's strategy. He wants mandatory treatment for all nonviolent, drug-addicted offenders.

He compassionately declared that "everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable." His plan expands on an executive order he issued last year to centralize drug crime fighting efforts, with the very important use of real-time data to determine the effectiveness of programs.

Importantly, mandatory treatment addresses the role of denial in drug abuse. Most addicts won't admit they have a problem and won't seek treatment on their own.

Too many tragedies are rooted in illegal drugs. Murders, robberies, the loss of loved ones to a misspent life in the haze of addiction, and the effects on families and entire neighborhoods are intolerable. Most crime in America is driven by the people who sell drugs and the people who buy them.

In addition to stepped-up treatment for offenders, New Jersey should consider making more treatment options available to those who haven't been caught up in the criminal justice system - yet. About 70 percent of New Jersey residents seeking treatment can get it, leaving a gap of 30 percent who can't.

Treatment works, not just for the users and their families, but society at large. An October 2010 state Drug Court report showed that offenders who were sentenced to treatment programs were convicted of new crimes at a rate of 8 percent, while new convictions for those who were not in treatment programs was 43 percent. On average, the annual cost of treatment was $11,379 per person vs. the cost of incarnation, $38,900.

The administration could not supply cost details for such a major transformation of state policy but, last November, the governor's office noted that New Jersey spends more than $225 million every year, not including $40 million on the Drug Court program, on its prevention and reentry programs for offenders who are abusers. This is a small price to pay for restoring human lives.

Pulling drug-crime programs together was a good idea. Making treatment required for all nonviolent offenders is an even better one. Hopefully, Christie can use his influence with governors in other states to get them to adopt this wise and heartfelt strategy.

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