By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
There was a celebration in Paterson this morning. Twenty-four people graduated from drug court and got congratulated personally by the governor, who believes drug addicts need help, not harshness.
“And that’s what drug abuse is to me, it’s an illness, an illness born of an initial bad choice, yes,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
Drug court is an 11-year-old program that sends first-time drug offenders into treatment instead of prison.
Christie expanded it and made it mandatory in 2012.
He recalled his days as a board member at a Morris County rehab center, where a kid whose eyes looked sullen and lifeless upon arrival looked better months later.
“I saw something happening and I always saw it in the eyes. The light was back. The eyes had that magic that is uniquely human,” Christie said.
To get well, Christie said, a drug addict needs to be able to look in the mirror and like who he sees.
“No one, whether you have a drug addiction illness or not, can have a fulfilling and good life if they don’t wake up in the morning and go to bed at night happy about the person they are at their core. The treatment, the assistance, the love you all have gotten through this program, those are things that begin to make you feel better,” said Christie.
To the wider audience, we are all in this together, he said.
“And lockin’ folks away and offering no help may make us forget for a moment — a day, a week or a month — but it will come back. So we need to reach out,” Christie said.
Putting first-time drug offenders into treatment instead of prison is one of Christie’s core issues, one on which his views could just as easily be spouted by a liberal. Christie is no liberal, but on this issue he sounds like one.
“I don’t believe God puts creations on the earth who we can throw away like the evening trash,” Christie said.
His simultaneous call for tougher rules on bail for violent offenders shows his more conservative side.