NEWARK – Gov. Chris Christie arrived here today just as 1,000 students walked out of East Side, Arts, and Science Park high schools in protest of school aid cuts.
But students weren’t on the agenda today.
The governor’s sport utility vehicle revved out to the industrial outskirts of the city to a trucking terminal turned barbed wire-enclosed prisoner catch basin called Delaney Hall.
Attending the facility’s tenth anniversary ceremony with the governor, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange), a social worker by trade, acknowledged that the state budget is still “a work in progress,” but praised Christie’s attentiveness to the issue of prisoner re-entry.
“We need to invest money into treatment intervention centers like this, without question,” said Oliver. “It costs us on average $49,000 per year to incarcerate someone in one of our institutions. The emphasis should be on treatment and independence from drugs and on helping people redirect so they’re productive in society.”
Christie delivered a moving speech in what started as a 250-bed facility, which now houses 1,200.
“I have always felt that only dealing with one side of law enforcement (punishment) was missing the boat,” said the former U.S. Attorney. “What you see right before your eyes are miracles. You see the conduit of God’s will and God’s spirit. This is where I need to be.”
In the crowd sat Bill Palatucci, inner circle political presence in the Christie camp, and vice prez of Community Education Centers, the umbrella organization for Delaney Hall.
“No one can accuse the governor of playing favorites,” said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark), noting a proposed reduction by $14 million in Christie’s budget for community education centers.
“The budget calls for a cut in 400 beds,” Coutinho added. “But there are approximately 3,000 inmates in our prison system whom we could shift to community corrections and save $23 million.”
Coutinho wants not only a restoration of the funds Christie’s seeks to cut from the programs, but an increase.