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N.J. Senator Backs Treatment and Early-Release for Nonviolent Drug Offenders


New Jersey’s nonviolent offenders with addiction disorders could be eligible for early release from prison — with continued substance abuse treatment — under proposed legislation sponsored by state Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), reported Jan. 6.

Lesniak’s “Earn Your Way Out” program, co-sponsored by Sen. Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer), would provide six months of drug education in prison to inmates. Participation would trim their sentences by two years. Two years of treatment would follow, and then three years on parole. said participants would have to be “diagnosed with addiction problems” to be eligible.

“This is not easy,” said David Kerr, of Newark’s Integrity House treatment program. “These efforts have to be made not by us, but by the inmate addict.”

Lesniak said the program would cost $40 million over two years, but would be cheaper than keeping people in prison. He said the state department of corrections could close a prison wing if 1,000 people went through the program and left prison early.

“It’s time to start winning the war on drugs,” said Lesniak.

Coleman agreed. “We need to get at the cause as well as the symptoms,” she said. “We will be able to restore people who have been part of the criminal justice system.”

“You have to be real careful when you implement these programs,” said Trent Norman, who is president of the union that represents corrections officers. “You have people who want to get into the program just to get out early.”

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