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Lesniak, Advocates Unveil Treatment Alternative For Non-Violent Drug Offenders

Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, speaks about a bill on the Senate floor.

“Earn Your Way Out” Legislation to Empower Non-Violent Offenders to Reduce Prison Term in Exchange for Participation in Successful Drug Treatment Course

TRENTON – At a Statehouse news conference surrounded by community, corrections and prisoner reentry advocates, State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak, D-Union, announced the introduction of his “Earn Your Way Out of Prison and into Supervision, Treatment and Recovery” legislation, a pilot program to allow 1,000 inmates to reduce their prison sentences in exchange for the successful completion of a substance abuse recovery and self responsibility course.

The bill, which will be sponsored by Senators Lesniak and Sandra Bolden Cunningham, D-Hudson, and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, would provide support and resources for individuals to recover from drug addiction and reclaim their lives. The program calls for drug counseling and contact with family and loved ones to help on the road to recovery. The goal is to cut down on recidivism and invest State Corrections funding smarter by addressing the most common root cause of crime: drug addiction.

Senator Lesniak’s statement at the news conference is below:

“It’s time to start winning the War on Drugs. Since the inception of the War on Drugs, New Jersey’s prison population has increased from 5,886 in 1980 to 25,436 in 2009. 80% of these prison inmates have substance abuse addictions and nearly 60% are re-arrested within two years of release from prison. Clearly, we are losing the War on Drugs.

“One of the reasons why, despite decades of heightened law enforcement and longer prison sentences, we’re losing the War on Drugs is that we’re continuing to recycle substance abuse addicts in and out of prison without giving them a chance to take charge of their lives and recover from their addiction. As a result, they inevitably find their way back into prison after again threatening and harming the lives and stealing the property of their family members, their neighbors, or anyone else whom they can prey upon, in order to relieve the craving caused by their addiction of choice.

“Earn Your Way Out Of Prison and Into Supervision, Treatment and Recovery recognizes the popular definition of insanity and expects different results by doing things differently. It challenges prison inmates to earn their way out of prison by participating in a recovery program based on self responsibility, a concept foreign to any addict.

“The goal of this pilot program will be to grant a two year early release from prison to 1000 inmates who successfully complete its course of self responsibility. This is not an easy way out. Two years ago, when I testified on behalf of drug court diversion for one of the robbers who invaded my home at two o’clock in the morning and threatened my life, I said, ‘Most addicted offenders choose to serve a prison sentence rather than enter a drug court program. The drug treatment is rigorous and tough. It takes courage to enter the program. Prison is the easy way out. Drug treatment is demanding.’

“The initial two year $40 million cost of the Earn Your Way Out Of Prison program will be paid by a restructuring of 2% of the over $1 billion budget of the Department of Corrections which, from 1999 to 2009, has had a 40% increase while its prison population, thanks to the establishment of Drug Courts and elimination of some mandatory sentencing, was decreasing 20%. At the end of the second year, the cost savings from the closing of a prison wing exceed the cost of the program. The cost reduction to society through reduced crime and recidivism is priceless.”

Click here to view a copy of the news conference agenda and a list of supporters of the legislation.

Click here to view a copy of Senator Lesniak’s “Earn Your Way Out” legislation.