In a move that makes a lot of sense judicially, fiscally, societally, and medically, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a state law that requires nearly all the state's non-violent drug offenders to receive mandatory sentencing to the state's drug courts in lieu of jail or prison terms. Up to now, participation in drug courts was voluntary and was limited by rules that made many with previous offenses ineligible to participate.
This new law, signed on July 19 by Governor Christie, is the result of a bipartisan effort that aims at ending what Christie, in a NJ Today news report, called the "warehousing ... of prisoners who are not a threat to society while the underlying cause of their criminality goes unaddressed."
The law's provisions will be phased in over a period of five years, during which the capacity of the state's drug courts will be expanded and the effectiveness of the effort will be measured annually to verify that predicted results are occurring.
Momentum for the law's passage is built around results from the New Jersey Department of Corrections, cited in the same NJ Today report showing that three years after release, 54 percent of imprisoned drug offenders were rearrested for an indictable offense, while two-thirds fewer--just 16 percent--of offenders who graduated from drug court had been rearrested. In both cases, approximately half of those re-arrested were re-convicted.
In addition to better outcomes and lower recidivism rates, expansion of the state's drug courts is also supported by the fact that community-bassed treatment options, even those involving law law enforcement, are dramatically less costly than imprisonment.
I'm glad to see New Jersey adopt such a straightforward, common-sense reform. How many other states are doing the same thing?