By Erin Delmore
“The victims of addiction deserve treatment, whether they’re in the community or they’re incarcerated,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
With that, Gov. Christie announced his plan to turn a shuttered 696-bed medium-security prison intro the state’s first fully-dedicated drug treatment center for inmates.
Mid-State Correctional Facility is tucked away in Fort Dix, four miles from the nearest stop sign, guarded by 15 foot barbed wire fences.
It closed down in June 2014. Christie called it a testament to his administration’s success in reducing crime and recidivism. While New Jersey’s crime rate is 22 percent lower than the national average, our prisons hold more drug offenders, percentage-wise, than any other state, according to a 2015 Brennen Center for Justice report.
Thomas Moore was sentenced to jail in drug court after he got caught buying five bags of heroin.
“At the time I was sentenced I really could admit that I wasn’t ready to stop,” he said. “I could go to prison, lay up, watch TV, go to work, but nothing will change in my head. My appearance might change, I might put on a little weight. I’ll probably be free from drugs for a little while, but I would still have access to drugs if I wanted to, when I wanted to.”
He says the only road to recovery is through treatment.
“If I don’t change the way I think, you could sit me in jail for five years, and believe that I have been rehabilitated. But if I never change the way I think, I just, I was out of circulation, that is all I really was. If you’re going to lock somebody up, you should at least give them an opportunity to rehabilitate,” Moore said.
Christie’s announcement — coupled with a $100 million commitment to mental health and substance abuse treatment — comes as New Jersey’s heroin crisis reaches epidemic proportions. His platform is winning him support in the first-in-the-nation primary state where a majority of New Hampshire residents ranked drug abuse their number one issue, even higher than jobs and the economy, at 21 percent.
Christie’s State of the State address echoed an emotional town hall in New Hampshire last fall.
“We have to stop judging and start giving them the tools they need to get better,” Christie said.
The treatment program at Mid-State will be run by the Department of Human Services, the facility itself, by the Department of Corrections. Inmates will be chosen through a clinical screening process while the renovation is in its early stages. Officials hope to reopen the prison early next year.