New Jersey’s prison population is dropping, as is the recidivism rate, and the state’s use of Drug Courts for many nonviolent offenders is seen as among the key reasons why.

Fifty-three percent of inmates entering New Jersey’s correctional system have a history of moderate to severe use of drugs, alcohol or both. Some get diverted to halfway houses, but those who pose more than a minimum security risk are going to get a new treatment option starting in early 2017.

Mid-State Correctional Facility at Fort Dix will reopen as a licensed drug treatment center operated by a contractor that will accommodate 696 male inmates. It will provide moderate to high intensity treatment services, with less intense outpatient services continuing to be provided at other prisons.

“This is an important project because, by going through a licensed program, it puts inmates on track to lead a sober life and also gives them the ability to obtain general assistance benefits upon their release from prison,” Corrections Commissioner Gary Lanigan told the Assembly Budget Committee Monday.

Currently, the state has more than 1,300 beds for inmates across six of its prisons, plus another 1,300 beds in halfway houses.

“What we’re trying to do now is to address the addiction needs of inmates that would not be eligible to enter a community program,” Lanigan said.

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The state will continue to maintain 60 treatment beds for female inmates at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility in Clinton Township.

The state closed Mid-State Correctional Facility in 2014, transferred its inmates to other facilities and began $24 million in renovations.

Lanigan said the state will look to close and renovate another of the state’s 12 prisons once Mid-State comes online in roughly a year.

“We’d like to find a facility where we could do that again, and we’ll be discussing that over the next year,” Lanigan said.

“There are several candidates that we have, so I wouldn’t want in an open forum to commit to any given one at this point, before there’s been any agreement or approval for it,” he said.

New Jersey’s prison population declined by 31 percent between 1999 and 2014, the largest reduction in the nation. The state’s prison population was 20,398 on Dec. 31, 2015, down 34 percent from the 1999 peak and the lowest level since 1991.

The recidivism rate fell from 48 percent to 32 percent, Lanigan said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for NJ 101.5 and the author of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook.

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