TRENTON – State Senator Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union) issued the following statement today in response to Governor Chris Christie’s prisoner re-entry initiative:
“Governor Christie’s initiative is a good first step in reform to a broken system that focuses on punishment rather than rehabilitation and does little to prevent recidivism. But much more is necessary to truly overhaul the prison system so offenders can lead a productive, crime-free life after they have been released from jail or prison.
“While the governor’s plan creates a pilot program mandating drug court for certain offenders, we should further increase the breadth of this successful operation by expanding the judicial and prosecutorial discretion for admission for offenders into drug courts who do not currently qualify. The state should also take a page from Union County, which has used the drug court model to successfully implement a mental health court.
“We should expand programs such as the Middlesex County Adult Substance Abuse Program, which provides drug and alcohol abuse treatment to qualified county inmates and should reconsider initiatives such as the ‘Earn Your Way Out’ program, which offers non-violent addicts an intensive six-month prison-education and treatment program that would cut their sentence by two years.
“We should create a presumptive parole system which would allow for certain inmates to be released at their first parole eligibility date as long as they have cooperated with any prescribed treatment and have had no serious disciplinary infractions while incarcerated on the current charge. Not only will this provide inmates incentives for good behavior while serving their sentences, but will also save the state money by transitioning inmates out of their expensive – $45,000 per year – prison beds, freeing up money for better supervision and treatment programs.
“We also must provide more opportunities for ex-offenders to re-enter society by changing the prohibitive laws regarding employment. I currently have two bills being considered by the Legislature that would do just that, including one to end the practice of employers automatically disqualifying an ex-convict from employment.
“I hope that Governor Christie will support real and lasting change to prisoner re-entry and rehabilitation programs that will empower offenders to break the cycle of addiction and crime and provide a path to re-enter society as productive, law-abiding citizens and to reclaim their lives and freedom resulting in a safer state for all our residents.”