KEARNY – Gov. Chris Christie visited the Hudson County Correctional Facility Wednesday morning to hear testimonialS from female inmates participating in the Integrity House program run by former Gov. James McGreevey.
McGreevey, who serves as a minister to the women, said Christie has done more than any governor on the issue of giving people who have been incarcerated a second chance. Last summer, Christie signed legislation that will set up drug courts in each of the state’s 21 counties within five years.
The women who take part in Integrity House aim to resolve their substance abuse problems and move on to live productive lives once they’re released. Some 40 women take part in the program. Integrity House has been only one of two programs for which the Justice Department reauthorized funding until 2015.
“I know in my heart this is a disease,” Christie said about substance addiction. “We don’t treat a disease by locking people up. We save lives by embracing people. We have to provide you with the tools and you need to work for the tools.”
McGreevey said the program is highly regimented, with each woman working from day until evening.
Programs like Integrity House have proven to be more effective than prison, the former governor said. While the national average for recidivism is 66 percent for individuals coming out of prison, the rate is just 25 percent for those participating in a program like Integrity House. The program provides therapy and a sense of camaraderie that help many of them overcome their challenges.
“We’re changing behaviors, we’re changing futures,” he said.
Many women gathered for Wednesday’s ceremony spoke about the effectiveness of the program and were grateful to the governors for their support.
Christie’s own interest in helping people battle their drug problem stems from his days as a Morris County freeholder in the mid-1990s, when he was assigned to serve as a liaison to county Human Services. He later joined the board of a private drug treatment facility called Daytop near his hometown of Mendham Township.