By Daniel J. Meara
Gov. Chris Christie is known for flexing his political muscle. In his recent State of the State address, the Republican governor put his bully pulpit to the best possible use. He spoke about New Jersey taking the lead on an issue that has caused politicians of all stripes to recoil for fear of being cast as soft on crime. Putting policy first, he said the time has come to be smart on crime.
In language that was at once firm and compassionate, the governor called for providing treatment for nonviolent drug offenders instead of putting them in prison. The speech before both houses of the Legislature on Jan. 17 insisted that the lives of nonviolent offenders are not to be discarded. To those who would receive treatment under the program, the governor said, “We want to help you, not throw you away. We will require you to get treatment. Your life has value.” These lives, as all lives, he said, are worthy of redemption.
He revisited and expanded on the plan he introduced late last year for mandatory treatment for offenders who are assessed and deemed to have a drug problem. The governor showed he understands addiction to be a disease that exempts no one, that “touches nearly every family” in the state. Denying a drug or alcohol problem, he said, has kept many offenders from entering drug court, so his proposal removes the possibility that, when referred to drug court, they would opt for a prison term instead, which would likely see them released only to return to drug use, crime and re-arrest.
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