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NC lawmakers should learn from Chris Christie on drug courts

The idea of cutting costs in the criminal justice system seems like it would be a common sense idea that would appeal to conservatives and progressives alike. In recent years, one of the most effective tools in advancing this objective has been the rise of alternatives to the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” approach of the “war on drugs” years.

Put simply, some smart people finally figured out that it’s a heckuva lot cheaper and more effective to help drug addicts escape the clutches of their health crises than it is to merely throw them in jail. Hence, the eminently sensible and highly effective concept of “drug courts” that seek to effect just such an outcome.

Yesterday, New Jersey’s conservative Republican governor, Chris Christie, signed a bill that makes his state the first in the nation to mandate drug treatment rather than jail time for drug-abusers convicted of nonviolent crimes. Good for him and good for New Jersey. Let’s hope their program is an off-the-charts success.

Now, if only conservatives running the North Carolina General Assembly could see (or remember) the obvious wisdom in this approach. Frankly, we thought they already had. In the past, North Carolina’s experiment with drug courts has won bipartisan support and seemed like phenomenon that would be a growing and permanent fixture in our criminal justice system.

Unfortunately, as Chris Fitzsimon has noted on several occasions, this highly logical and effective public program is just one of dozens for which the Tillis-Berger budget eliminated state funding during the 2011-12 legislative session without any real or coherent rationale.

It truly defies every possible explanation…except for this one: Just as with cuts to education and other essential programs, conservative North Carolina lawmakers thought that giving tax breaks to some of the state’s wealthiest individuals and corporations was simply more important.

Let’s hope these lawmakers eventually learn from their friend to the north and reverse this amazingly dumb and shortsighted policy.

 

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