New Jersey diversion program sparks familiar debate

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is promoting the use of treatment before prison for low-level drug offenders. Though Christie promotes this as a money saving venture and is interested in diverting only the lowest-level offenders, it’s still lovely to see any moves away from expanding the prison system.

Ironically, the most significant objections to this move come from advocates for addicts. Elizabeth Thompson of the New Jersey Drug Policy Alliance argued, “It takes months for the general population to get help, but if you get arrested you’d get help more quickly. I question the fairness of that.” Check out the story here.

True dat, Ms. Thompson. But what’s the real problem here: that people who have committed crimes might receive the kind of assistance that would allow them to stay drug – and crime – free? Or that New Jersey has thus far failed to provide enough resources for everyone to get the help they need in a timely manner?

Fifteen years ago, a similar debate went on in New York state. Corrections Officer unions were up in arms about the public education grants that incarcerated people were receiving which made college education in prisons a possibility. CO’s in New York facilities were cheesed off that incarcerated people were getting free college educations while they couldn’t afford to send their children to college.

Instead of this race to the bottom in which no one wins, Thompson and other critics should be asking why the government can’t shell out money for drug treatment resources for all. Certainly if they weren’t paying to incarcerate roughly 7,000 drug offenders they’d have some extra bill$ to throw around.

Oh, and the folks who objected to the use of public education grants for incarcerated people were successful. Grants for higher education were revoked, and college programs were pulled out of correctional facilities state wide. I’m pretty sure that the working class still has just as much trouble paying for their kids’ education, but on the bright side at least we’re not coddling those darned criminals anymore.

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4 thoughts on “New Jersey diversion program sparks familiar debate

  1. Annie says:

    This is a great article. I am currently researching for a project for my juvenile justice class on “The Future of Juvenile Justice.” Thanks for your articles; they are providing me with much needed and well appreciated fodder for my essay. Annie

    • StephanieDM says:

      Thanks, Annie. Good luck with your essay; it sounds like a cool topic. And if you’re looking for examples of awesome organizations, check out the Center for Young Women’s Development in SF, CA (

      • AnnieW says:

        Thanks, Stephanie, I copied the link and will post the information on our discussion board. This is a great program that should be implemented all across the United States. Interestingly, when I first mentioned I would be going back to college and working on a degree in criminal justice, I was working as a volunteer at the Library and one of the librarians suggested I work on prison reform for women. This idea of the Center for Young Women is the best of both world’s — juvenile women; Thanks much for the information. Incidentally, I’m in Oregon. Clackamas County has a great program also. They have a committee that works with children whose parents are incarcerated, something I want to write about.

      • StephanieDM says:

        Yeah, I found the CYWD when I was writing my thesis on alternatives to incarceration for young women. They’re awesome. And I will definitely look into the Clackamas County program. Good luck with the class!

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