By Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini
I applaud the July 19 bill signing by Gov. Christie creating a mandatory drug-treatment program for non-violent drug offenders instead of a jail sentence.
The bill, S-881/A-2883, establishes a statewide system that will be implemented over a five-year period. Under the new law, the administrative director of the courts will select at least three regions (vicinages) throughout the state in each of the five years. The state will contract with drug treatment programs in each vicinage to provide treatment for addicts who are judged eligible to participate by the court instead of incarceration.
The drug court program offers those suffering from addiction the chance to turn their lives around and overcome this disease. Instead of being locked up in prison, non-violent addicts deserve an opportunity to be rehabilitated.
Incarceration will not help them overcome their affliction. Placing them in an environment with professionals who are trained to help people combat substance abuse gives them a second chance. Drug courts give individuals the opportunity to restore their own dignity and self-worth. Rehabilitation is a more cost-efficient alternative to prison and not only helps the offender, but benefits their family and society as well.
Under the new law, offenders would be required to submit to a professional diagnostic assessment if there is a reasonable basis to believe that the defendant may be drug dependent. After the assessment is completed, if the court determines the defendant to be drug dependent, and the defendant meets the eligibility criteria, the court must sentence the defendant to drug court regardless of whether the defendant has sought or consents to such a sentence.
It is estimated that the cost of incarceration is $49,000 annually. The state prison system currently houses approximately 7,000 non-violent drug offenders. The potential savings generated by expanding the drug court program could range between $27,001 and $37,621 per inmate per year.
Mary Pat Angelini is an assemblywoman from the 11th Legislative District, serves as Republican deputy conference leader and also is executive director of Prevention First, which helps families and individuals handle difficult and extraordinary challenges such as violence and substance abuse.