FORT DIX, N.J. (AP) - Gov. Chris Christie on Monday said a one-time New Jersey prison has reopened as a drug treatment center for inmates and could be a national model as he leads a task for on addiction for President Donald Trump.
Christie marked the opening of the nearly 700-bed facility that fulfills a key promise he made in 2016 with a roundtable discussion with state officials and counselors who will work at the facility.
It’s part of a broader final-year focus by the Republican governor on drug addiction, which claimed 1,600 lives in 2015. Trump, also a Republican and a longtime friend of the governor’s, recently asked Christie to lead a panel on opioid addiction. Christie said he plans to talk to all 50 governors about efforts in their states and expects to report his findings to the president by October.
“I now have the opportunity to make this a national model,” Christie said.
Christie said renovating the facility cost the state $28 million, with the money coming from the state’s general fund. Christie in 2016 called for a $2 million investment to reopen the facility as a treatment center for inmates, but it’s unclear why the figure changed.
Corrections officials say renovation led to some changes, including upgrades to fire suppression systems, heating and ventilation, windows and security.
The facility will give inmates who did not qualify for drug court a chance for recovery, said state Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan. It will serve medium-security inmates.
Christie promised in his 2016 State of the State address that he would transform the prison that shuttered in 2014 into a treatment center. It’s unclear exactly how the facility’s success will be judged. Christie said a 100 percent success rate isn’t realistic and the goal is to change people’s lives.
“Every life that you help to save here is going to be something that is a positive of the people of the state,” he said.
The reopening comes in Christie’s final year as governor, as he has focused on the state’s drug addiction crisis. He is term limited and is set to leave office in January 2018.
He described a meeting last month at the White House when the president’s task force was announced as emotional and said the president was moved by the crisis that is gripping many parts of the country.
He said he plans to speak to the nation’s governors in smaller groups and that Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker will set up discussions with Republicans and North Carolina’s Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will coordinate Democrats.
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