CAMDEN, N.J. – President Barack Obama isn’t the only politician calling for changes to the nation’s criminal justice system.
Presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered a policy speech on the issue in this city just five miles from Philadelphia on Thursday, calling for a number of initiatives to give nonviolent drug offenders greater opportunity to put their lives back on track.
The Republican pointed to Camden, which he characterized as one of the most dangerous cities in the country when he first came into office in 2010, as a national model for how law enforcement and communities can work together to keep residents safe in the future.
Christie has focused on the city during his time as governor, overseeing a state takeover of Camden schools and replacing the city’s police force with a county one, while increasing the number of officers and improving surveillance technology. He cited a 22% drop in overall violent crime since the initiatives.
“Peace on our streets is more than just the absence of violence,” the governor said at a gymnasium at the Roberto Clemente North Camden Community Center. “Justice isn’t something we jail our way to. Justice is something we have to build in our communities.”
Like Christie, Obama has been focusing on creating a fairer justice system – even visiting Camden in May and touting the city as a “symbol of promise for this nation.”
More recently, at the NAACP annual convention earlier this week, the commander-in-chief laid out a plan for fixing the criminal justice system, announcing a federal review of the use of solitary confinement and calling on Congress to pass a sentence reform bill by the end of the year. On Thursday, he also became the first sitting president to see the inside of a federal prison, visiting the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma.
Other Republican presidential hopefuls have also called on reforming the justice system, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
During his speech, in front of approximately 100 community leaders and those who work in criminal justice, Christie proposed mandatory drug courts across the country, including in all 94 federal districts. He also called on improving the relationship between community and police, reforming America’s bail system and giving vocational offenders the tools the need to return to their communities after being incarcerated.
A confident Christie added, “There is too much talk about crime and too little action. That is not the case in New Jersey. And when I am president, that will no longer be the case in America.”
Christie’s speech was the fifth major policy address he’s given, something the governor – once a first tier 2016 candidate who has fallen toward the back of the 2016 field – has pointed to on the campaign trail, arguing it differentiates himself from the rest of the GOP pack.
His presidential campaign took a hit at Obama and Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton, saying that while the two “have recently decided to pay lip service to this city and this issue now that it is politically expedient, changing the conversation on drug addiction and helping non-violent offenders reclaim their lives isn’t something new for Gov. Christie.”
Overall, Christie’s speech was received well. Wallace Custis, a program director for Face Forward 2, which seeks to deter troubled youth from becoming adult offenders told msnbc he liked Christie’s message of giving Americans “a second chance.” He said many young adults after coming out of jail have trouble getting jobs and housing because of their record.
In terms of Christie for president, Custis said, “I still want to wait and see what the other candidates have to say.”
Christie won’t be in the Garden State for long. Later this evening, he’ll be in the early voting state of New Hampshire, where he’ll hold a town hall meeting in Franklin and another one in Milford on Friday.