TRENTON – State Sen. Raymond Lesniak on Wednesday called on Gov. Chris Christie to support the expansion of the drug courts in New Jersey, citing the success of the program that diverts substance abusers from the criminal justice system to treatment.
The mandatory program operating in three areas and the voluntary program in place throughout the state have already produced positive results, reducing prison costs, preventing crime and saving the lives of those struggling with drug addiction, according to Lesniak, the sponsor of the law expanding eligibility for drug courts and establishing the mandatory programs.
“Drug courts are a proven success in cost saving, crime prevention and rescuing substance abusers from addiction,” the senator said. “The new courts are a way of spending corrections money smarter by sending addicts for treatment rather than to jail. Substance abuse is a public health issue more than a criminal justice problem.”
Lesniak says that the governor could fully support both the mandatory and voluntary drug courts by including an additional $30 million in next year’s budget proposal. This year’s budget allocates approximately $50 million for the programs.
“Every dollar invested in treatment saves much more in prison costs and other expenses in the criminal justice system, not to mention the incalculable savings in crime reduction and the human misery of addiction,” said Lesniak.
Research shows that 54 percent of drug offenders released from prison are rearrested, compared to a 16 percent recidivism rate for those who receive treatment.
The mandatory drug courts have been operating as a pilot program in three areas, Hudson County, Ocean County and Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties. Next year they will expand to three more areas, according to the timetable in the law authored by Lesniak.
Lesniak also authored legislation that expanded eligibility for the voluntary drug courts, a law that led to a 23 percent increase in voluntary admissions to treatment facilities statewide and an increase of 100 percent in the three counties with mandatory programs, showing that eligible defendants are willing to submit voluntarily when they know they could be ordered into treatment.
“The drug problem is becoming worse with the surge in the use and abuse of heroin,” said Lesniak. “We know that sending addicts to jail doesn’t work, but effective treatment can.”
Lesniak said that a major impediment for continued success of the program’s expansion is the long wait for treatment.
“There aren’t enough beds in the treatment centers to handle the number of people in need of rehabilitation and recovery,” said Lesniak, who noted that the current wait time is 90 days. “Timeliness is important when it comes to treatment. Leaving substance abusers in jail for extended periods of time while they wait to get treatment is harmful to their recovery and to the success of this effort.”
Lesniak noted that Christie supported the expanded eligibility and the mandatory drug courts, recognizing the success and the value of treatment over prison.
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