A recent article in the Star-Ledger, “Drug Court Overload,” highlights the success of this program that emphasizes treatment over incarceration for non-violent drug offenders. At the same time, the article points out the need for an expansion of effective addiction treatment services to meet the growing enrollment of drug court participants. This article correctly states that it is important that New Jersey expand the number of quality, licensed addiction treatment slots.
Studies have shown conclusively that every dollar spent on treatment programs saves at least seven dollars in criminal justice costs. The drug court model has been rolled out already in a number of counties, and the success in keeping non-violent drug offenders out of jail while helping them to reclaim productive lives has been clearly demonstrated.
The expansion of drug courts across the state would help to ease the burden on the overtaxed criminal justice system and would benefit both addicts and society. Long-term treatment and recovery programs are proven to help many addicts to achieve and maintain sobriety, allowing them to move forward, and to contribute to society in a positive way. More than that, studies show that these programs and expenditures actually make us safer as a society.
But successfully treating non-violent addicts and allowing them to become productive members of society requires a full continuum of care that includes residential housing, employment, education, and community reintegration. I urge those who are overseeing the expansion of the drug court model to keep this in mind, and not to shortchange a successful and cost-effective program by cutting corners in the treatment and recovery model that is proving so successful.
We are proving day-in and day-out that the trusting relationship built between drug courts, the NJ Division of Mental Heath and Addiction Services (DMHAS), and experienced, licensed providers can be stronger than the disease of addiction. Expansion of these successful and effective programs will help to build the emotional, social, spiritual and familial support necessary for a thriving recovery. And while it is imperative that we act quickly to expand the drug court system statewide as drugs become cheaper and addiction becomes more prevalent, it is equally as important to make sure that the fundamental infrastructure and underpinnings of effective treatment and recovery are not overlooked.
The road to recovery is long and demanding. But all journeys must start with a first step. By recognizing that an expansion of drug courts is essential, while at the same time ensuring that the resources needed to achieve success are in place, New Jersey is on a track to fundamentally addressing the issue of drug addiction and breaking the cycle of addiction that for decades has been clogging our criminal justice system without yielding lasting positive results.