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Treatment or Prison?

The governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, announced a plan to place drug offenders in treatment rather than sending them to jail or prison. This would represent a major change of direction in the state, which has some of the most draconian drug laws in the country.

"Putting people in prison for nonviolent drug offenses makes no sense," the governor said when he announced his intention. It is also a lot cheaper. But the big benefit of this program is that graduates of drug treatment programs have a much better chance of kicking their habits and becoming productive citizens.

One in four inmates in the New Jersey state prison system is a non-violent offender. When they are released, they have very limited prospects and little supervision. They may owe child support and have no way of paying it. They sometimes have little recourse but to go back into their old ways, and ultimately, back to prison.

The governor has proposed, among other things, an expansion of the drug court program. And while this approach will save a significant amount of money in the long run, there will have to be major investments in drug treatment, education and job training of offenders. And this may be a hard sell. Some people will always believe that punishment is better than rehabilitation, no matter the cost.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "Putting drug offenders into treatment a better choice than prison", Dec. 4, 2011.

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