New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has previously expressed his support for providing drug treatment for nonviolent offenders, has announced his intention to make New Jersey the first U.S. state to require that nonviolent offenders receive treatment for problems with alcohol or other drugs.

According to a March 1 article by Terrence Dopp of Bloomberg News, Christie has budgeted $2.5 million for the initiative. The initial costs of the program would be offset by reducing the amount of money that the state spends to arrest, prosecute, and imprison nonviolent offenders with substance abuse problems:

“This is about re-claiming lives,” Christie, 49, told reporters today at a rescue mission in Trenton. “We have to step up to the plate and admit that our efforts, from a law- enforcement perspective and societal perspective in dealing with this issue, have been a failure.”

An October 2010 report from the state’s drug courts found that 16 percent of graduates are re-arrested for new indictable offenses. The rate of re-arrests for drug offenders released from prison is 54 percent, according to Christie’s office. It costs the state $49,000 a year to imprison each drug offender, while treatment would cost $23,000 to $25,000, he said.

A press release on the website of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office indicates that implementing Christie’s plan would involve the following four legislative components:

  1. Increased identification of eligible drug addicted non-violent offenders. As part of this effort, information on drug addiction and treatment would be required to be given to those charged with second and third drug degree offenses.
  2. Court ordered clinical assessment to determine suitability for drug court. Pre-sentencing reports would be required to include information regarding drug addiction and recommendations regarding whether an assessment should be ordered for a defendant.
  3. Courts to make a finding regarding addiction for any offender having a clinical assessment. If offenders are found to be drug addicted, meeting present drug court eligibility factors and are prison bound, then those offenders would be sentenced to the drug court program regardless of their desire to enter the program.
  4. The court to consider a defendant’s cooperation in the process of drug treatment and assessment in sentencing a defendant to encourage and leverage cooperation and participation in drug treatment programming.

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[Photo at top of post: NJ Gov. Chris Christie speaks to addiction program alumni Wayne Frascella, Justin Sullivan, and Randolph McGowan during a March 1 visit to the Rescue Mission in Trenton, N.J., where Christie called for expanding New Jersey’s highly successful Drug Court program with mandatory treatment for non-violent, drug-addicted offenders throughout all 21 New Jersey counties.  Photo credit: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen]