New Jersey lawmakers are looking closely at the prisons and how they are full of drug offenders these days. Many are considered “low-level” or non-violent offenders.
The efforts of some New Jersey lawmakers to introduce legislation that would automatically expunge the criminal records of first-time, nonviolent drug offenders is a sensible idea that should earn strong bipartisan support.
But in my role as a detoxification expert in New Jersey, my concern is how these individuals end up as drug offenders in the first place. State lawmakers need to know that between 60 and 70 percent of opiate dependents who arrive at Sunrise Detox and other such treatment centers are under 30 years old, don’t have full-time jobs, and have committed petty crimes to support their habit.
If we are truly going to reduce the number of drug users in New Jersey, we need to redouble our efforts at prevention. Once individuals have been apprehended for a drug-related crime (especially the petty crimes under scrutiny now), they likely have been drug abusers for years. In many cases, permanent damage has already been done.
Before this legislation is formally introduced, my hope is that state legislators closely examine the drug prevention programs already in place, analyze what other states are doing in the area of prevention, and develop a two-pronged solution.