In a campaign speech in Camden Chris Christie today touched upon such subjects as improving relationships between police forces and urban communities, increasing drug courts, and changing the bail system. His speech included the usual number of platitudes such as “Justice isn’t something we can jail our way to. Justice is something we have to build in our communities.” it also included some substance, although little in the way of new or radical ideas.
All the while, he pointed to Camden as a national model for police departments operating in poor, crime-ridden cities across the country. In this regard his slogan “telling it like it is” must be called into question. He has certainly aided George Norcross’ interests there, but Camden remans a troubled city and should not be touted as a model now.
Some of Christie’s proposals mirror those of Marc Levin, Director of Right On Crime (“The one-stop source for conservative ideas on criminal justice”), but they also reflect those of many progressives. Today President Obama is visiting a prison. On Tuesday he called on Congress to take up criminal justice reform at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia saying he’s “feeling more hopeful today” about the prospects of federal legislation because Republicans and Democrats never agree on anything but “a lot of them agree on this.” Sen. Cory Booker has been an outspoken supporter of reform, as have Rick Perry and Rand Paul.
Christie called for mandatory federal drug courts, which offer drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration for non-violent offenders, to be available throughout the nation. This movement in NJ started in the 1990’s, but Christie has increased the number and funding of such courts in the Garden State. He correctly calls drug addiction a disease.
He pressed for changes to the bail system to keep violent offenders off the streets and ensure that low-income, low-level offenders aren’t stuck behind bars awaiting trial just because they can’t put up bail. He and our Democratic legislature enacted such a measure last year – imperfect in some ways but a step in the right direction.
Christie’s speech which may not go down well with some “law and order” Republicans remains moderate by Republican and even Democratic standards. Hillary Clinton has made overhauling the justice system and drug addition centerpiece issues in her campaign. Us skeptics of his slogan, “I mean what I say and I say what I mean,” adopt a wait and see attitude, but in the meantime we can only hope he promotes more smart justice reform in New Jersey.