MAYS LANDING -- Inmates at the Atlantic County Correctional Facility received diplomas Thursday in a new program that is designed to take non-violent criminals out of prison and help them recover.
One by one each of the inmates walked up to receive their diplomas.
They sat with smiles on their faces, surrounded by family and other inmates who support them, as they take the next step in their commitment not only to the state, but most importantly to themselves.
"This program has saved me. Once I came to jail I was in a regular pod. I found out about the program and applied for it and came over. It changed my whole style of living and dealing with my addict dependencies," said Lamll Lawrence.
The treatment program here at the Atlantic County jail is an experimental one, and is a model for Governor Christie's plans to provide treatment to non-violent drug offenders rather then prison time.
"Let us reclaim the lives of those drug offenders who have not committed a violent crime. By investing time and money in drug treatment - in an in-house, secure facility- rather then putting them in prison," said Governor Chris Christie.
All 19 inmate graduates have had extraordinary struggles with alcohol and drugs. But they say with the help of state officials and programs like this they are committed to changing their lives and staying out of prison.
"It's remarkable. I've never seen anything like it. I've been in other programs and I've never been afforded the chance to be able to participate in anything like it," said Ben Murawski
Governor Christie outlined in the state of the state this week that he is putting forward a new plan that would expand programs like this one, which will end up costing tax payers much less in the long run.
"Experience has shown that treating non-violent drug offenders is two thirds less expensive then housing them in prison. And more importantly as long as they have not violently victimized society everyone deserves a second chance," said Christie.
"I appreciate what they are doing. I really believe this will work and I'd like to see more of it and I hope it's afforded to others behind me," added Murawski.
All the graduates have been clean for at least 60 days and today were able to mark that milestone with family and friends.