Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, purposed during his State of the State speech a change in the way drug offenders are punished. His plan would direct non-violent offenders into treatment programs instead of prison.

“Everyone Deserves A Second Chance.”

He stated in his address, “[L]et us reclaim the lives of those drug offenders who have not committed a violent crime.” He also admitted that current drug policies, and implicitly, the war on drugs have failed.

Treatment Is Less Expensive Than Prison

Governor Christie pointed out that, “Experience has shown that treating non-violent drug offenders is two-thirds less expensive than housing them in prison.”

At a time when all state government are struggling with budgetary problems and deficits, reducing prison expenses can be a way to free up a substantial amount of governmental resources.

The Star Ledger reports that the Department of Corrections in New Jersey had proposed a budget for 2012 of $1.09 billion.

Failed War on Drugs

In 1969, President Nixon announces a war on drugs when he called it “public enemy number one in the United States.” Since that time, billions have been spent on interdiction, arrest, prosecution and incarceration of drug offenders.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the federal government spent $15 billion on the war on drugs, with another $25 billion being spent by the states.

Yet after 40 years of “combat,” drug-related arrests in 2009 were 1.6 million, according to the FBI. In New Jersey, the DOC estimates it costs an average of $48,000 a year for each inmate, and there are over 7,000 inmates in the New Jersey corrections system on drug offenses.

The Cost of a Criminal Record

Another potentially positive aspect of the governor’s proposal would be the number of persons who could avoid having a criminal record. While jail time has been shown to have little effect on improving the behavior of addicts, the effect of a jail time on anyone is significant.

A criminal record condemns many to perpetual unemployment, creating a vicious feedback loop where it becomes easier to commit a crime, be incarcerated and repeat that it is to be in Christie’s words “redeemed.”

How the legislature will treat Christie’s plan is unknown, but coming from a Republican governor may give it a slightly better chance of passage. The creation on an effective mandatory system to treat drug offenders would greatly improve the chances of ending the cycle of offense and incarceration for New Jersey.