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New Jersey Gov. Christie surprises some with broad call for offender treatment

February 1, 2012
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Details to come on priority item from State of the State address.

While gay marriage constitutes the latest topic capturing national attention among followers of the never-dull administration of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the addiction treatment community in the governor’s home state is abuzz over his recent call for mandatory treatment for nonviolent offenders with substance use problems.

Although even the staunchest supporters of treatment were somewhat surprised that addiction treatment was elevated to a signature issue in last month’s State of the State address by Christie, they also point out that his attention to this subject in general shouldn’t catch anyone off guard.
Christie has witnessed the societal impact of substance use problems from numerous perspectives, including as a prosecutor and as a former board member of a New Jersey addiction treatment organization (Daytop Village). In addition, media reports pointed out that the governor’s wife has engaged in volunteer work at a number of treatment facilities in the state.

Stating that “everyone deserves a second chance,” Christie proposed in last month’s State of the State speech a policy shift that would divert nonviolent offenders to mandatory treatment. Many media outlets lauded the proposal, with the Philadelphia Inquirer writing in an editorial that the governor “smartly recognizes that addiction is still winning the 40-year-old war on drugs, so he is changing up New Jersey’s strategy.”

Few details are known about how the Christie administration will seek to achieve this goal, both financially and programmatically. More information could be forthcoming in the governor’s budget proposal, due to be released later this month.

Debra L. Wentz, CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc., said some as-yet unsubstantiated reports have indicated that an interdepartmental task force that was formed by the administration last year to centralize anti-drug efforts could drive much of the change the governor wants to see.

Wentz adds that others have reported that a plan to divert offenders to treatment could be initiated as a pilot program in a couple of New Jersey counties. At this point, she says, her organization’s advocacy focus regarding the administration’s proposal will center on ensuring that treatment services be evidence-based and delivered by credentialed providers.

In a Jan. 29 commentary she wrote for the Star-Ledger newspaper, Wentz stated that “Christie is taking advantage of the confluence of public sentiment, fiscal imperative, compassion and good policy that has the potential to change lives and definitively solve the state’s fiscal crisis.” She added that at present, fewer than 7% of state residents with substance use disorders are able to access needed treatment services.

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Comments

Very Happy to hear about this!!!

Nebraska started a program for non-violent offenders several years ago that requires them to be highly supervised and in treatment. This program appears to be working quite well and many people who would otherwise have been unable to participate in treatment have been successful in completing treatment and probation programming. Starting this process took a high level of cooperation from probation, parole, the prison system, and the treatment community. Thus far, the communication levels have increased between systems and offenders are able to work with the treatment community alongside their supervising officers to achieve sobriety and become productive members of society.

Is the CEO not aware of drug court throughout NJ counties that diverts offenders to treatment?

The cost of addiction is much more than people realize. I am glad to hear about this attempt to address the issue of addiction and treatment. The emotional and destruction of the family in addiction can include domestic violence, unemployment, sexual abuse, academic failure and serious mental health issues, etc. that only makes it harder to break from. The cost to society of fees for court services, inmate expenses, social costs (insurance rates, damages or losses to businesses and individuals,...) along with our ability to freely walk alone or with a group of friends that becomes a safety issue in many places now. I hope this becomes a focus all over the Country of treating addiction because dealing with the underlying issues, becoming educated about why and what we can do to help decrease addiction are really important. Intervention and prevention are important aspects of treating addiction because it effects all society and will help break the cycle of addiction in families that are at high risk for addiction and a lifetime spent in and out of jail. See, I hope to find a job in treating addiction and working in a homeless shelter for almost 10 months, the needs are much more demanding than anyone can understand.