Transcript: NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s 2014 state of the state address – Part IV

Part IV: Partial transcript of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s state of the state address on Jan. 14, 2014:

But education, though, is one key to the quality of life in New Jersey. Our approach to safe streets and stronger communities is another. Every New Jerseyian should be concerned when violent crime occurs right before our eyes.

Last month, a young lawyer went to open the door of his vehicle for his wife after an evening of pre-Christmas shopping. He was set upon by thugs who wanted to carjack his SUV. And in front of his wife, he was shot in the head and left for dead on the deck of a mall parking garage. Now, outstanding police work led to 4 arrests and the suspects are now charged with murder. All 4 had prior criminal records. All 4, fortunately, are now in jail.

How can we tolerate such violence in our midst? The answer is obvious. We cannot. So we must take a new approach to fighting crime in New Jersey and prevent tragedies like this from happening. We must do everything that we can to swiftly jail those violent criminals who bring additional murder and disruption to innocent victims across our state. And we have the tools to do this – some of which we’ve begun and some of which we’ve not. And I believe 2014 must be the year we finish the job.

So what did we not finish? Almost 2 years ago, I announced a proposed constitutional amendment to modify the right to bail in New Jersey. The concept is simple. New Jersey courts should have the right to keep dangerous criminals off the streets and in jail until trial.

Why is this important? Well, a study by the federal government’s Justice Department found that one-third of the defendants released before trial ended up being charged with some type of pre-trial misconduct, one-sixth were arrested for a new offense and half of those were felonies while they were out on bail.

The federal government allows a violent criminal who is adjudged by the court to be a danger to the community to be held without bail; New Jersey law does not. This must change.

How can we justify any longer exposing our citizens to the risk of violent crime at the hands of those already in custody, who a court determines are predisposed to commit it again? I believe there’s no justification for that.

Let us mirror the federal law. Let us work together to pass bail reform in 2014.

Now, I’ve had some successes in the past few years. We’ve made progress in some areas of reducing crime in New Jersey. Over the past decade, violent crime is down 16% both across New Jersey and in our 15 largest urban centers, and the state’s prison population is down 20% since 1999.

But we can do better and we must. Those 15 urban centers still account for more than half of all the violent crimes in New Jersey despite only representing 18% of the state’s population.

And for too long, Camden has been one of the most dangerous cities in New Jersey and in America. The ability to put police on the street was constrained by tight budgets, low morale, and an absentee rate that sometimes reached 30% in a day.

Under an agreement that this administration signed with the city of Camden and the county of Camden, we have regionalized the police force. A police force that was slightly more than 200 is now being beefed up to 400 county police officers patrolling the city of Camden in the metro division. Last year, the homicide rate is down and the crime rate was down by over 20%. We know the battle in Camden is far from won.

But under Mayor Dana Redd, Police Chief Scott Thomson, and Jose Cordero who helped decrease crime in East Orange significantly, Camden is using a new approach – using technology to predict crime and engaging in the community. Camden is moving in the right direction.

And I agree with Senator [Stephen] Sweeney that we should have incentives for other communities to adopt the type of shared services agreements and regionalization agreements that are, in this instance, making more cops on the street possible. More cops on the street means safer communities.

To make this happen, we will work with you to re-introduce the Shared Services and Consolidation Reform measure in this session of the legislature, and I hope we get it done.

We must also reach out a hand of compassion and common sense to those who engage in non-violent crime. We must do a much better job of reclaiming their lives and putting them back on the road to success and engagement with our society.

And my belief is simple: Every human life is precious and no life – no life – is disposable. And that’s why I proposed last year to change our approach to non-violent drug offenders and to mandate treatment, not imprisonment. Together – together – we made this possible. The drug court program has been a great success, thanks in part to your support and funding both the court and the treatment.

And I thank you for the passage this past year of the Overdose Protection Act. We should not be prosecuting those good samaritans and health professionals who are trying to help in a life-threatening overdose situation.

And you know New Jersey’s approach to reclaiming lives? It’s working right in front of our eyes. Recidivism has dropped by 11% – one of the steepest drops in America. And New Jersey is right to be recognized by national experts as a leader in strategies among states in reducing the incidents of recidivism.

Now, one part of this for me, it’s personal. In this room today is a man who was a drug addict at 16-years-old. His life was at risk. He was imprisoned. But treatment saved him. He was rehabilitated at Daytop Village in our hometown of Mendham. He then went on to graduate from high school, to get a college degree, and ultimately got a law degree and passed the bar exam. I had the privilege of hiring him as a summer intern at the U.S. Attorney’s office many years ago and working with Craig Handlin [sp]. Craig is with us now in this chamber.

If you need proof that reclaiming a life is possible, that every life is precious and has value, and that no matter what condition you find that life, that life is salvageable if we reach out and give them the tools they need to help themselves, that proof is in this chamber today – a practicing lawyer who at 16-years old was in jail as a drug addict. Craig, welcome and thank you for making New Jersey a better place. [Applause]

Because of the years I’ve known Craig, I know personally the passion and strength that comes from the human desire to make your life better, and I believe we can do more to help give people a second chance. That’s why today, I’m proposing an initiative to expand integrated treatment and employment services for individuals receiving drug treatment services by providing grant funds in the amount of $500,000 to be managed in partnership with the Nicholson Foundation. We will place individuals in jobs and help improve their retention. We’ll work directly with treatment providers so they integrate employment services with drug treatment services for drug court participants.

Research shows that employment during substance abuse training – treatment, rather – helps ensure continued participation in that very treatment and gives them sustainable long-term employment. So now, with this partnership, we’ll help empower individuals who want and deserve the opportunity to live a life like Craig’s – a life redeemed and well-lived.

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