Thursday, January 26, 2012

NJ Governor Christie: "No Life is Disposable"

Massachusetts isn't the only state with a governor calling for big-time sentencing reforms.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former prosecutor and a Republican, included a moving plea for mandatory treatment for nonviolent drug offenders in his recent State of the State address.  FAMM President Julie Stewart applauds his courage and compassion in this Huffington Post editorial.  

Here are the governor's thoughts:
"...let us reclaim the lives of those drug offenders who have not committed a violent crime. By investing time and money in drug treatment -- in an in-house, secure facility -- rather than putting them in prison.

Experience has shown that treating non-violent drug offenders is two-thirds less expensive than housing them in prison. And more importantly -- as long as they have not violently victimized society -- everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable.
I am not satisfied to have this as merely a pilot project; I am calling for a transformation of the way we deal with drug abuse and incarceration in every corner of New Jersey.
So today I ask this Legislature and the Chief Justice to join me in this commitment that no life is disposable.
I propose mandatory treatment for every non-violent offender with a drug abuse problem in New Jersey, not just a select few. It will send a clear message to those who have fallen victim to the disease of drug abuse -- we want to help you, not throw you away. We will require you to get treatment. Your life has value. Every one of God's creations can be redeemed."
It's rare to hear this kind of affirmation -- but so important that more leaders start saying it out loud. Here at FAMM, we hear it every day from family members and prisoners alike. As Julie writes:
The reason our sentencing policies, especially with regard to nonviolent, drug offenses, remain so punitive is that we have learned to dehumanize people who break the law. They have become The Other, the ones who asked for it and now are going to get it. This lack of empathy is bewildering in light of the fact that almost all of us know someone good who did something bad.
Governor Christie's words -- and plan for nonviolent drug offenders -- call all of us to the better angels of our nature. To the addict and abuser, Christie says, "Your life has value... We want to help you, not throw you away." This is the exact opposite message that prisoners and their families receive from today's judicial system and bureaucratic prison-industrial complex.
How do you think we can change more hearts and minds and remind people that prisoners are, well, people?