Chris Christie knows he’s saving lives.
A pilot program requiring New Jersey police officers to carry the drug Narcan, a highly-effective antidote for opioid overdose, is going statewide today. And during a phone call Tuesday afternoon, the New Jersey governor talked with me about his support of the policy.
“We started equipping every police officer in two counties…a couple months ago, and just in the couple of months that we’ve been doing this, they’ve saved 40 lives,” Christie said.
“Now every police officer in the state, including the New Jersey State Police, will be carrying Narcan kits in their car.”
“All 28,000 of our EMTs — both paid and volunteer — will be carrying Narcan with them,” Christie continued. “And all of them will be trained, and all of that training, and the Narcan, itself, is being paid by county and state forfeiture funds.”
Christie argued that the statewide expansion of this policy is consistent with his pro-life worldview: “If you don’t save their life at the moment of crisis, you’re not going to be able to give them the kind of treatment they need to be able to reclaim their lives on the back end.”
“The fact is that, if you’re pro-life, you can’t be pro-life just when they’re in the womb — you have to be pro-life when they get out of the womb, too. And sometimes, those lives get messy and complicated and difficult. It doesn’t make the life any less precious, or any less worthy of protection, because they’ve fallen victim to a disease,” he said.
Christie isn’t alone in championing reform efforts that might once have been viewed as a “bleeding heart liberal” policy. More and more, Republicans are championing efforts to treat drug abuse, and to help rehabilitate drug users. There is also a sense that past policies, which largely involved prison sentences for non-violent offenders, were misguided, and potentially harmful.
A couple hundred miles south of Jersey, a bipartisan effort aimed at reforming mandatory minimum laws got a boost in the House last week when Rep. Paul Ryan joined a growing list of co-sponsors, including Rep. Raul Labrador, in support of the bill.
The Smarter Sentencing Act, which is co-sponsored in the Senate by the likes of Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, would cut mandatory minimums for certain drug offenses, and grant a wider latitude to judges in cases where offenders meet certain requirements.
Supporters say the bill would also reconfigure an antiquated sentencing policy, saving billions of dollars on incarceration and other expenses. On June 5, for example, a group of supporters, including former New York City Police Chief Bernard Kerik, Heritage Action for America CEO Michael Needham, and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, signed a letter urging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid “to advance the Smarter Sentencing Act as soon as possible.”
And, coming on the heels of the letter, Ryan’s co-sponsorship is being hailed as a potential turning point for a bill whose slow march was in need of a boost.
“Rep. Paul Ryan’s co-sponsorship is another indicator that we’re reaching a tipping point — a point at which there’s not just support from leaders in both parties, but a bipartisan recognition that this level of incarceration is a major ingredient in other problems we all want to solve, like poverty, community and family disintegration, and lack of economic opportunity,” said Molly Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums FAMM.
“Chairman Ryan supports the Smarter Sentencing Act because he thinks we need to revisit our sentencing guidelines,” wrote Ryan spokesman Kevin Seifert in an email. “He believes sentencing reform can reduce the impact of prolonged incarceration on low-income communities while also staying true to our number-one priority: protecting the public safety.”
During my conversation with Christie, he also noted that New Jersey was tackling the mandatory minimum issue — albeit in a different way. ”What we’re saying for non-violent drug offenders is, instead of sending them to prison, send them to mandatory inpatient drug rehabilitation therapy,” Christie said. “And I think that’s just a smarter way to do it — both in terms of results we’re getting in the end, and it’s smarter from a financial perspective.” That seems to be a common theme.