July 16, 2018  Last Update: November 27, 2017, 8:52 pm

25% of NJ Prison Inmates are Nonviolent Drug Offenders

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed mandatory drug treatment for prisoners in NJ, where 25% of the prison inmates are there for non-violent drug-related offenses. Drug detox and addiction counselors in New Jersey like the idea, with some caveats.

Twenty five percent of the inmates in prison in New Jersey are non-violent drug offenders, according to drug detox expert Ira Levy. He cited the New Jersey State Department of Corrections data in an editorial on New Jersey’s NJ.com web site. Levy suggests that Governor Christie’s push for treatment instead of prison for non-violent drug offenders could work if done right.

Twenty five per cent of the prison inmates are non-violent drug offenders. That is a big number. The costs of keeping an inmate in prison are considerable — $44 thousand per year in New Jersey. And according to Levy, 50 per cent of those will re-offend and return to prison.

Christie wants to save the high costs – that 25% is a significant piece of the New Jersey state budget. Treatment programs for those diverted away from prison could be much lower.  Most drug treatment programs cost far less than prison, and the most expensive intensive parts of addiction treatment usually lasts from weeks to months, not years.

A key component of addiction treatment is addressing co-ocurring disorders including mental illness.

Levy says he’s been there himself — in jail for drug abuse. He also says New York has already made the change in one county, and saved a lot of money:

In 2009, New York adopted legislation that decreased its nonviolent prison population by 13 percent. The state saved more than $250 million by diverting nonviolent offenders to alternative sentencing, drug treatment and mental health programs.

Levy advocates for a treatment plan that includes job counseling. Levy says self-worth and independence are keys to successful recovery.  And prison is the last place to get those positive skills:

"Prison is an imposing and frightening place, especially for nonviolent people suffering from dependence who have absolutely no interest in a life of crime."

It is not clear whether Christie will fund public access to drug treatment, provide drug treatment through a separate State agency, or limit the legal aspects to mandating participation in treatment as a term of parole or other means of avoiding prison. Elizabeth Thompson of the New Jersey Drug policy Alliance, in another editorial to NJ.com, wants to make sure treatment is provided outside of the criminal justice system:

"It is perverse that we are promoting a system in which someone must get arrested before we agree to help them."

Christie is also looking to expand New Jersey’s use of  “drug courts”.  Drug courts take on only specific drug cases that are likely to benefit from treatment over imprisonment. Christie is considering making drug courts mandatory for drug offenders in NJ.

In a recent editorial on NJ.com,  a former New Jersey State Attorney General Peter Verniero noted that some drug offenders would rather go to prison than treatment.  That reflects the core issue — it’s easier to continue to offend and cycle in and out of prison, than get clean and live a clean life.

Vernieroi also notes that the rate of re-arrest for those going through the drug court program was only 16%, compared to 50%  for the drug offenders sent to prison. He notes that violent drug offenders are not eligible for drug court and treatment-only options. According to Debra Wentz, CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, there is a 12 to 1 return for every dollar spent on treatment:

"As documented by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, each dollar invested in substance use treatment and prevention yields a $12 return."

It’s worth noting that the goal of prison is to “arrest” a mis-behaving individual, to prevent the consequences of that bad behavior. While some have attempted to integrate rehabilitation into the prison system, that is generally not a priority, and not successful given the 50% re-arrest rate.

On the contrary, the goal of drug treatment is to move an individual into a state of recovery, which means learning to live free of the substances and associated bad behavior. As essential component of drug treatment is counseling – especially identifying and treating common mental challenges associated with substance abuse (mental health issues, personality disorders, health issues). Recovery is living life free from drugs, usually supported by community involvement, including long running programs like AA and other twelve step programs.

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Comments

  1. Tmorgan says:

    well Gov Christie doesn’t want to include violent crimal to receive drug treatment .. if crimal didn’t use drugs , they would have not rob someone to get drugs ..therefore they need treatment . yes they would have to do some time for the crime that they committed , but they still are human being that are crying for help . when they lay there head on ther pillow at night don’t you think for one minute that they are not remorseful for what they hve done ,. the problem is drugs. it’s a very powerful tool that can ruin a person life. No one gets up in the morning and say I think I want to become a drug addict. Or when I grow up I want to be a drug user. Some people need at least 12-15 months of treatment.
    not everyone can succeed from drug because they struggle and then die from it while other change their lifestyle and change for the better. but who is they to judge and say they are not worthy to get that chance!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  1. […] commercial conflict of interest and failure to stem the tide of drug addiction and violent crime. New Jersey recognized that 25% of its prison inmates were non-violent drug offenders, and began a process of reversing this enforcement-heavy approach, recommending increased emphasis […]

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