Could Christie save Kensington and Somerset?

River­ward Rant

If you’re a river­ward cit­izen who is — like I am — con­cerned about the prob­lems of drug ad­dic­tion in areas like the corner of Kens­ing­ton and Somer­set, you might want to listen to what New Jer­sey Gov. Chris Christie has to say on the top­ic of drug ab­users.

You might think that a large, ab­ras­ive Re­pub­lic­an like Christie takes a hard-line stance on drug ad­dicts and says they’re just petty crim­in­als and losers who need noth­ing more than a stern talk­ing-to and a bonk on the head with a night­stick.



Gov. Christie is com­mit­ted to tak­ing non-vi­ol­ent drug of­fend­ers out of pris­on and pla­cing them in­to re­hab­il­it­a­tion.

That, by the way, is largely con­sidered the best op­tion to com­bat the drug prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to any­one with a shred of know­ledge on the sub­ject.

And by “any­one” I mean phys­i­cians, psy­cho­lo­gists and drug-treat­ment coun­selors.

Ya know, mart people.

Christie cites the suc­cess of smal­ler re­hab­il­it­a­tion pro­grams as evid­ence of the ef­fect­ive­ness of fa­vor­ing treat­ment over jail time for non-vi­ol­ent drug of­fend­ers, like many of the ad­dicts you might see hov­er­ing around the drug mar­ket at the Somer­set El stop.

Lots of those ad­dicts will end up in jail — if they haven’t been there already — and simply con­tin­ue to drain our tax dol­lars once they’re locked up.

And when those ad­dicts leave jail, they’ll likely head right back to Kens­ing­ton and Somer­set, gen­er­ally mak­ing life miser­able for the people liv­ing there.

On top of the tax money those ad­dicts already cost us while in pris­on, tax­pay­ers have to shell out more to have them locked up again.

We also have to pay the cops and the judges, mak­ing our taxes that much high­er, which hurts your wal­let even more con­sid­er­ing that you missed a day of work when you were called to jury duty to weigh the case against the dope deal­er who sold the heroin to the ad­dict in the first place!

Simply put, Christie’s pref­er­ence for drug treat­ment, rather than jail lodging, is the way to go, es­pe­cially here in Philly.

Right now the Pennsylvania pris­on sys­tem is a big fat pork­er, stuff­ing it­self on non-vi­ol­ent drug of­fend­ers who spend years in pris­on — a lot of years, be­cause of our man­dat­ory sen­ten­cing laws — rather than in re­hab­il­it­a­tion cen­ters.

It costs a lot of money.

Ac­cord­ing to the state’s De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions (as poin­ted out in a Janu­ary 2011 re­port by state aud­it­or gen­er­al Jack Wag­n­er), hous­ing an in­mate for one year costs roughly $36,000, which pays for all the met­al bars, meals and com­fy pris­on pil­lows, plus a few doc­tors to stitch those shank wounds.

Re­hab and drug-treat­ment costs can vary, but in gen­er­al, it costs a lot less, es­pe­cially in the long run since those non-vi­ol­ent drug ad­dicts are less likely to re­main drug ad­dicts if they’re re­quired to see doc­tors trained to treat their ad­dic­tion. It beats let­ting them suf­fer through with­draw­al in pris­on.

Too of­ten, our drug policies are de­term­ined by politi­cians who are be­hold­en to voters but too of­ten, I’m sorry to say, don’t have the slight­est bit of in­form­a­tion about the is­sues they’re vot­ing on.

There are al­ways knee-jerk re­ac­tions to ideas like Christie’s, who seems to un­der­stand that ad­dic­tion is a dis­ease or, at the very least, a neur­o­lo­gic­al dis­order.

I don’t agree with Christie on much. I do think we should give him cred­it for hav­ing the guts to fa­vor drug treat­ment over jail time be­fore the end of his first term as gov­ernor. Politi­cians usu­ally try to be re-elec­ted be­fore voicing their edgi­er opin­ions.

But it’s not easy to look at a drug ad­dict sham­bling in­to the shad­ows at the corner of Helen and Somer­set streets and say, “This man is sick.” Our knee-jerk re­ac­tions tend to stoke our an­ger at a prob­lem, and that an­ger gets lodged in our ears.

So when guys like Christie — and the med­ic­al pro­fes­sion­als who’ve stud­ied ad­dic­tion — say that maybe those ad­dicts have cer­tain men­tal dis­orders that need to be treated, some people tend not to listen and stick with the poorly in­formed but pop­u­lar idea that ad­dicts are just losers un­worthy of prop­er care.

Then they vote for people who share that poorly in­formed but pop­u­lar idea. And noth­ing changes.

Angry people who won’t listen to smart folks are al­ways do­ing stuff like this. I fig­ure that the type of people who let their an­ger get in the way of lo­gic are just like the dunces who tossed Ga­lileo in jail for say­ing the Earth re­volved around the sun.

Well, guess what?

The earth in­deed re­volves around the sun, and those ad­dicts at Kens­ing­ton and Somer­set are go­ing to re­main ad­dicts — and will re­main a drain on our tax dol­lars — un­til we in­tro­duce some new ideas about how to treat them. ••

“River­ward Rants” re­flects the opin­ions of Joe Quigley, a Fishtown res­id­ent, area nat­ive and writer of the Web site PhillyNeigh­, where he makes cyn­ic­al (and un­censored) com­ments about life in the river­wards. He can be reached at


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