- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) - On a rare presidential campaign stop in his home state Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie laid out his proposals for overhauling the criminal justice system, improving community-police relations and reducing crime.

The Republican governor has already enacted state versions of several measures he says should be adopted nationally. Here is a look at how his state efforts have fared.

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COMMUNITY POLICING

Christie is holding Camden as a model of how law enforcement and residents can build trust to keep people safe.

The city has long been among the most crime-ridden in the country and matters deteriorated in 2011 and 2012 after Christie cut state aid and the city reacted with deep cuts to its police force. In 2012, when police were hardly present, Camden reported a record 67 murders among its population of about 77,000.

Then in 2013, the city disbanded its police force, which was replaced by a county-run department, a move supported by Christie as well as Democrats who run the city and county governments. The chief remained, as did many of the former officers. But the new system meant shedding costly union contracts to allow for more officers under a similar budget.

With more officers, the force brought back beat-based community policing that it implemented before the layoffs and it beefed up technology, such as shot-spotting microphones around the city. Police play football with children and sometimes hand out free ice cream. More officers also mean drug dealers scurry from their customary corners.

Some residents say it’s making a difference.

“Children are out, they’re more robust, they’re more happy,” said Lisa Shabazz, 65, a lifelong Camden resident. “I think that’s one hell of a difference.’

Crime has dropped across the board over the last two years, according to the city’s data. Last year, there were 32 murders.

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DRUG COURTS

Christie is calling for mandatory drug courts in the federal judicial system with the aim of getting nonviolent suspects in drug cases into treatment rather than prison.

New Jersey has had voluntary drug courts since the 1990s. Under Christie, the state is phasing in mandatory ones.

Donna Plaza, who oversees New Jersey’s drug courts, says that since 2002, less than 18 percent of drug court graduates have been back in jail three years after their programs ended and that the program saves money compared to prison.

Bruce Stout, chair of the criminology department at The College of New Jersey, said Christie has been brave to open up the program, but that more needs to be done to make addiction a treatment issue rather than a criminal one. He would like to see the state decriminalize marijuana use, expand needle exchanges where health workers can also help intravenous drug users get treatment and make treatment more easily available to people who have not been charged with crimes.

“The mandatory drug court bill is an important step, but it’s one step in a marathon of 26.2 miles,” Stout said.

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BAIL OVERHAUL

Last year, Christie signed a law that allows judges to release some suspects without bail and supported a state constitutional amendment - which ultimately passed - that eliminates the right to bail. Together, the idea is to let nonviolent suspects out of jail even if they can’t afford bail while keeping those deemed most dangerous locked up as they await trial.

The approach, while new to New Jersey, is similar to what federal courts already do. Christie he said it should be expanded on the federal level.

It’s too early to tell how it’s going in New Jersey; the key provisions don’t take effect until 2017.

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PRISONER RE-ENTRY

Christie said more programs are needed to help bring inmates back into society after they have served their time.

He cited programs in New Jersey that let prisoners take college classes and that connect them with housing, drug treatment, job placement and other services after they’re released.

Christie also touted his signing of a law that prohibits questions on job applications about whether applicants have been convicted of felonies. He said it’s a fair question for interviewers to ask, but the law at least keeps job-seekers with criminal histories from being eliminated for consideration before they have a chance to explain themselves.

“No governor in this nation has done more than Governor Christie in providing comprehensive re-entry - housing, training and employment,” said Jim McGreevey, a Democratic former New Jersey governor who now works on prisoner re-entry.

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