Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill today that's expected to lead to an expansion in services for addiction treatment providers.
The bill, S-881, allows more drug offenders to be placed in treatment programs rather than being incarcerated. It also establishes a pilot program in two counties that would mandate nonviolent drug offenders be placed in treatment programs.
Over the next five years, the state is planning to expand the mandatory services throughout the state, a priority of Christie's.
"This is going to be a big challenge for the private treatment folks, who will have to step up and expand," Christie said at press conference at the Rescue Mission of Trenton, a nonprofit treatment provider.
Christie originally supported mandatory treatment across the state immediately. However, he said, he agreed with legislators that a five-year phase-in would be beneficial to both providers and the judicial system.
Residents who leave the treatment centers may be moved to the state's halfway houses, which have recently come under scrutiny. Christie said he doesn't expect the providers will be overwhelmed.
"I think we'll see expansion of halfway houses," Christie said. "I'm not worried about a stress on that."
The governor also said the treatment will be a more productive path for those who receive the treatment. Instead of being in prison, they will have an opportunity to get a job, Christie said. Christie became interested in the issue in the 1990s, as a board member of Daytop Village, a treatment provider in Morris County.
While state officials can't ensure that treatment will be effective, Christie said, they can "make sure the program is fully funded and effectively implemented."
Rescue Mission CEO Mary Gay Abbott-Young said private providers will work with public officials to meet the expanded demand for services.
"We're kind of used to working in a challenging environment," Abbott-Young said. She noted that treatment models have changed over time, to a "clinically driven" model in which residential stays may be shortened depending on the residents' needs.