NJ offering proposals to alter criminal justice system

Seeking in part to give nonviolent drug offenders better shot at rebuilding lives and improve community relations

By Jill Colvin
Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is calling for changes in the criminal justice system, seeking in part to give nonviolent drug offenders a better shot at rebuilding their lives and to improve frayed relations between communities and police.

In the wake of protests across the country sparked by the deaths of young black men by police, Christie plans to point to Camden, New Jersey, as a national model for rebuilding trust between law enforcement and residents while driving down violent crime.

"Peace on our streets is more than just the absence of violence," Christie says in excerpts of a speech he plans to deliver Thursday in Camden. "Justice isn't something we can jail our way to. Justice is something we have to build in our communities."

Camden is of the most crime-ridden cities in the country and it got far worse in 2011 and 2012 after the city had deep police force layoffs in 2011 partly in response to state aid cuts under Christie. But crime rates have fallen sharply in the last two years after a Christie-backed deal replaced the city's police force with a larger county-run force. President Barack Obama recently visited Camden to tout the changes, which Christie has cited as an example of the kind of bipartisan problem-solving he can bring to the White House.

The speech is the fifth in a series aimed at framing Christie as a substantive candidate with specific policy ideas. The effort to differentiate him in a crowded Republican field hasn't led to much momentum.

Christie, who has long pressed the need to treat drug addiction as a disease, will also call for mandatory drug courts across the country, including in all 94 federal districts. Under a program he championed in New Jersey, nonviolent drug-addicted offenders can be sentenced to mandatory participation in drug treatment programs instead of jail time.

"Some irresponsible leaders love to find scapegoats or ride each wave of public outrage to support their narrow ideological goals," he says in the excerpts provided by his campaign. "It's always easier to blame the cops, or guns, or a lack of government spending. Well, I'm not going to do that. I care too much about this to give you quick fixes. And what we've seen on the streets of places like Ferguson is exactly what you get from a half-century of quick fixes."

Christie, a former U.S. attorney, will also call for reforming the bail system to keep violent offenders off the streets and make sure low-income, low-level offenders aren't stuck behind bars just because they can't put up bail.

Overhauling the criminal justice system and combatting drug addiction have emerged as campaign issues in both the Republican and Democratic race. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, has made both issues early centerpieces of her campaign.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press

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