Lawmakers in New Jersey are working on legislation that would offer treatment to nonviolent offenders in lieu of jail time. Studies show that treatment is a more effective method of curbing drug offenses than imprisonment. With a greater than 50 percent chance of offenders returning to prision, it becomes clear that the current laws are not working.
When considering the state of New Jersey’s costs to enforce current laws and sentences, we can see that this is a win-win proposal. It costs $44,000 a year for a prisoner to live in a New Jersey state prison. 25 percent of inmates in New Jersey’s prisons are nonviolent drug offenders. Cut 25 percent of the prison population and overcrowding issues are solved. Money saved by not housing prisoners could easily cover treatment costs, job training, and counseling.
Could drug treatment reduce offenses?
In 2009, New York enacted legislation that resulted in a 13 percent decrease in its nonviolent prison population and a savings of more than $250 million. Governor Christie’s Plan for New Jersey would work if administered correctly.
The state has to put programs in place for rehab, treatment, counseling, and job training for those addicts. Giving those in need the tools to become contributors to society are important to their independence and self-worth. As studies have shown, building a support system around an addict leads to a higher chance of recovering and staying sober. It doesn’t make sense to send these people to a prison system that is not supportive and only shows evidence of creating repeat offenders.
I am hopeful that the lawmakers here in New Jersey will do what is right for our state and pass this legislation. Addicts should not be left to suffer in prison. They need real treatment.