Gov. Christie First Term Report CardCriminal Justice & Drug Policy: C

Improving Internal Affairs

In response to a 2013 ACLU-NJ report on the routine mistakes and obstacles from law enforcement handling internal affairs complaints, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, appointed by Gov. Christie, introduced regular online trainings on internal affairs practices for all law enforcement agencies and created an internal affairs reference sheet for all police departments to keep next to their phones. The ACLU-NJ applauded the state’s quick response to improve internal affairs practices.46

Bad Prescription for Medical Marijuana

Four years after the state enacted the Compassionate Use of Marijuana Act, the Christie administration has yet to implement a reliable medical marijuana program that serves the needs of most patients. The Christie administration has stalled implementation of the state’s medical marijuana laws and has established only three dispensaries in three years, prompting some residents to seek help in other states. While Gov. Christie eventually signed a bill expanding the strains of marijuana available in the state and allowing children access to medical marijuana in limited circumstances (S2842),47 he mandated that only child patients could receive prescriptions for edible forms of marijuana, not adults, limiting the medicinal options for adults suffering from illnesses that may make smoking difficult or impossible.48

War on Drugs Continues

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Gov. Christie said in a speech in 2012, and again in 2014, that the war on drugs has been a failure. But Gov. Christie’s purported disapproval of the war on drugs has not budged his position against marijuana law reform. In December 2013, Gov. Christie said that neither marijuana decriminalization, nor legalization, would ever happen on his watch.49 Meanwhile, an ACLU study revealed that New Jersey police make nearly 22,000 arrests for marijuana possession every year and that black New Jerseyans are almost three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white New Jerseyans, despite similar usage rates.50

Gov. Christie signed a law in 2012 requiring drug treatment for low-level, non-violent drug offenders (S881), but this could potentially make matters worse. If an offender fails to complete a year-long program, the state will punish him or her criminally for a relapse. Gov. Christie’s recognition of the public health implications of drug use deserves praise, but wedding treatment to the criminal justice system may prove to be a toxic relationship.51

In further recognition that drug use is a public health concern for which criminal law enforcement is not the only solution, Gov. Christie demonstrated compassion for problematic drug users and their families by signing the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Act (S851) in May 2013. Although Gov. Christie vetoed the legislation the first time around, in 2013 he changed his position and signed the bill into law, giving limited immunity to individuals who witness drug overdoses when they summon help, a step that will save lives.52

Protecting Civil Liberties in Corrections and Policing

In a step forward for the wrongfully convicted, Gov. Christie signed a law (S1219) that increases compensation for people who have been erroneously imprisoned, raising the amount for every year spent behind bars from $20,000 to $50,000. This makes it easier for individuals to reclaim their lives following release. However, in a conditional veto, he excluded from restitution anyone wrongfully convicted of a crime who took a plea bargain.53

In a 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics study, 95 percent of cases ended in plea bargains, and the patterns in the criminal justice system leading to the high number of plea bargains have not changed significantly in the time since.54

And in a sensible move, Gov. Christie rejected the suggestion of placing armed guards in schools to curb gun violence in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn.55 Doing so would have increased the likelihood of criminalizing behavior that should be handled by school officials, rather than police.

But his record on corrections remains troubling. In 2012, Gov. Christie struck an item in the budget calling for transparency and an investigation into state-run, privately managed halfway houses in which violence, gang activity, escapes and drug use had run rampant.

An investigative piece in the New York Times found that halfway houses, run by Community Education Centers, a private contractor, functioned as an unregulated, unaccountable, woefully under-resourced de facto arm of the corrections system in New Jersey. Gov. Christie has cited the company’s facilities as criminal justice success stories despite the track record of escapes, lax enforcement and preventable rapes and murders that arguably happened as a result of poor oversight.56

In January 2014, Gov. Christie vetoed a simple measure (A4193) that would have ensured greater accountability of police departments throughout New Jersey. The legislature passed a bill to require municipalities to equip all new police patrol cars with video cameras, which benefits both police officers and members of the public. Unfortunately, Gov. Christie rejected it without explanation,57 thwarting a measure that law enforcement experts consistently cite as a best practice.58

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Related Content

46 Shalom, Alexander, “Opinion: N.J. police departments must review internal affairs complaint rules,” The Times of Trenton, Feb. 18, 2013, http://www.nj.com/times-opinion/index.ssf/2013/02/opinion_nj_police_departments.html

47 Livio, Susan K., “Christie signs law easing medical marijuana restrictions for kids,” The Star-Ledger, Sept. 11, 2013, http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/09/christie_signs_law_easing_medical_marijuana_restrictions_for_nj_kids.html

48 Johnson, Brent, “Christie says no to legal pot, but maybe to medical marijuana change for children,” The Star-Ledger, April 10, 2014, http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/04/chris_christie_says_no_to_legal_pot_but_maybe_to_medical_marijuana_change_for_children.html

49 Balko, Radley, “Christie: ‘We will end the failed war on drugs,’” Washingtonpost.com, Jan. 21, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/opinions/wp/2014/01/21/christie-we-will-end-the-failed-war-on-drugs/

50 ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” 2013. https://www.aclu.org/feature/war-marijuana-black-and-white?redirect=billions-dollars-wasted-racially-biased-arrests

51 Spoto, MaryAnn, “Gov. Christie signs bill that gives nonviolent drug offenders rehab instead of jail time,” The Star-Ledger, July 19, 2012, http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/07/gov_christie_signs_bill_that_g.html

52 Livio, Susan K., “Christie, inspired by victims’ parents and Bon Jovi, signs ‘Good Samaritan’ drug overdose bill,” The Star-Ledger, May 2, 2013, http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/05/christie_signs_good_samaritan.html

53 Christie, Chris, Statement accompanying conditional veto of Senate bill no. 1219, New Jersey’s 215th legislative session, May 9, 2013, http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/S1500/1219_V1.HTM

54 Devers, Lindsey, “Plea and Charge Bargaining Research Summary,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, p. 3., Jan. 24, 2011, https://www.bja.gov/Publications/PleaBargainingResearchSummary.pdf

55 Hayes, Melissa, “Christie: Armed guards won’t make schools safer,” Northjersey.com Political State blog, Dec. 21, 2012, http://www.northjersey.com/news/nj-state-news/christie-armed-guards-won-t-make-schools-safer-1.410157

56 Dolnick, Sam, “Christie curbs scrutiny of halfway houses,” New York Times, June 29, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/nyregion/christie-curbs-legislatures-scrutiny-of-halfway-houses.html

57 Caffrey, Michelle, “Moriarty ‘deeply disappointed’ by Governor Christie’s veto on police camera bill,” South Jersey Times, Jan. 22, 2014, http://www.nj.com/washington-township-times/index.ssf/2014/01/moriarty_deeply_disappointed_b.html

58 IACP Research Center Directorate, “The Impact of Video Evidence on Modern Policing,” International Association of Chiefs of Police report commissioned by U.S. Department of Justice, 2005, http://www.theiacp.org/portals/0/pdfs/IACPIn-CarCameraReport.pdf

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