Bill would require proposed criminal justice policies to project their impact on communities of color

TRENTON – Governor Chris Christie on July 13 issued a conditional veto (PDF) that voiced approval, with minor changes, to S677/A3677, a measure requiring proposed criminal justice laws and regulations to come with statements estimating their impact on communities of color. If the Legislature approves Christie’s suggested changes, New Jersey would join the ranks of states making smarter decisions regarding criminal justice.

New Jersey has the largest racial disparity nationwide in Black and white incarceration rates: Blacks are incarcerated at a rate 12 times higher than whites. This legislation, if enacted, will help address the vast racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system by giving lawmakers information about the potential consequences of proposed policies, leading to safer and stronger communities.

While the laws and rules governing our criminal justice system are often intended to be race-neutral, in practice they are not, the ACLU-NJ has said. The Legislature regularly reports on the projected impact of proposed bills on New Jerseyans’ health, the state’s finances, and the environment. Policies that affect the criminal justice system should also come with impact statements.

The following statement can be attributed to Dianna Houenou, Policy Counsel of the ACLU of New Jersey:

Dianna Houenou

“This law is a critical step in reducing New Jersey’s shameful racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Our racial disparity in incarceration rates is the most extreme in the country, and we’re grateful that Governor Christie recognizes the urgency of the situation and fully supports this measure for tackling this problem. This law would elevate New Jersey as a leader for other states to follow.

“Although New Jersey has lowered the total number of people behind bars in the state, our state’s racial disparities in prisons and jails have continued to climb. This bill would let lawmakers know whether a policy could disproportionately harm people of color when they still have a chance to fix it. It’s better for New Jerseyans to address potential racial inequities at the time a law is under consideration rather than reverse course years later after unjust policies have harmed communities.

“Christie’s suggested changes would make racial and ethnic impact statements more comprehensive, calling for additional information on the broader public safety impact of proposed policies. We urge the Legislature to approve them to allow this bill to become law.

“Our criminal justice laws are some of the most powerful our government has — they can strip people of their freedom, break up families, and place people in cages. Lawmakers must have all of the information available to them about the ramifications of their decisions before making such far-ranging policy choices. We applaud the Governor for supporting this measure and we encourage the Legislature to approve the Governor’s changes and elevate New Jersey as a leader for other states to follow.”

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