By Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini
A letter written from a woman whose teenage son is addicted to drugs received a lot of attention after it was read on the air during a call-in show with Gov. Christie.
The letter about a son whose addiction ascended from roxicoden to heroin was more than a desperate plea for help from a family struggling to heal a young man from a deadly disease.
It was one vivid example of an epidemic in New Jersey that goes beyond the inner cities and throughout just about every community.
The letter illustrated how drugs destroy lives and families. It showed how the current system is not sufficient in stopping addiction. There are many good people suffering from a deadly disease. They belong in treatment, not jail.
Many of us want to implement a revolutionary policy of mandating drug treatment for nonviolent offenders, instead of locking them up and sentencing them to a lifelong cycle of drug addiction and crime.
As an advocate for keeping young people healthy, safe and drug-free, I hear tragic stories like this mother’s way too often, which is why three months ago I joined a bipartisan group of legislators in support of Gov. Christie’s proposal to mandate drug treatment.
It’s not often that a bipartisan group of lawmakers from throughout New Jersey representing suburban and urban communities stand united on groundbreaking social policy.
It was a landmark moment for our state to become a leader in a smart approach to repair lives shattered by drug abuse that I was proud to see.
Several colleagues and I introduced A-2991, which would require mandatory treatment for certain nonviolent offenders. I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this legislation passed as soon as possible because there are many lives affected by drugs that remain in limbo.
The concept of drug courts has been tested in New Jersey and throughout the nation. They have been proven to repair lives and families, reduce crime and save taxpayer money.
The results are impeccable:
• 75 percent of drug court graduates remain arrest-free for at least two years.
• Taxpayers save more than $3 in criminal justice costs for every dollar invested in drug courts. Some studies that factor in other savings such as reduced victimization and health care costs, estimate there is a $27 benefit for every dollar invested.
• Drug courts are six times more likely to keep offenders in treatment long enough to get better.
• Family re-unification rates are 50 percent higher for drug court participants.
That is federal data from the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and New Jersey has also benefited.
There are nearly 5,000 offenders getting treatment through drug courts in New Jersey and 1,930 have successfully graduated since 2002, according to the State Judiciary, which estimates the current program saves taxpayers more than $23 million per year.
That figure does not include the societal benefits such as reunited families, drug-free babies and making offenders productive members of society. Those achievements are priceless.
These impressive results have come without making drug courts mandatory throughout New Jersey as many of us want to do. Gov. Christie’s proposal will build upon the proven success of drug courts and provide new hope for families like the one in the letter.
The mother’s letter is proof that families struggling with drug abuse need help right now. It’s time to make an effective approach to break the chains of addiction an integral part of our society and court system.
Mary Pat Angelini is Assembly Republican Deputy Conference Leader who represents the 11th District in Monmouth County.