When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed drug court legislation last year, he criticized the draconian drug laws passed in the wake of the crack cocaine epidemic, saying they did nothing more than warehouse people in state prisons. NJ Spotlight says the new law makes New Jersey's drug court program eligible to more offenders, like those who have committed second-degree burglary or robbery. The law also made drug court mandatory, for some offenders. A judge can now impose it as a sentence. Until now, it was a voluntary program; defendants had to apply to get in.
This shift in sentiment on how to treat drug crime shows politicians, particularly Republicans, no longer feel they have to be tough to be effective, said Todd Clear, interim chancellor and dean, School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in Newark. “For years, politicians had it burned into their souls that you can't be soft on crime.” Drug court proponents say that while 54 percent of New Jersey drug offenders released from prison are rearrested for new crimes, that figure is just 16 percent for those who have graduated from the program. As of July, judges in three areas began sentencing certain offenders to drug court on a mandatory basis. Under the law signed last year, each year, judges in an additional three will be able to mandate drug court sentences, until all of the state is participating.