Sentencing reform bills, together with public health credits bill, could make progress in addressing NJ’s worst-in-the-nation racial disparity and COVID-19 death rates in prison
An assembly committee voted to advance bills to dramatically reform New Jersey’s inequitable sentencing laws, which, together with a bill to speed up release during the pandemic, would make progress toward making New Jersey’s justice system fairer and more just. New Jersey has the country’s highest Black-white disparities in its prisons, along with the nation’s highest COVID-19 prison death rate.
The sentencing bills – S2586/ A4369, S2593/A4370, S2594/A2370, S2592/A4373, S2591/A4372 - would end mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses and some other crimes, reduce the harshness of other mandatory minimum sentences, allow courts to make more reasoned decisions in sentencing young people, and allows reconsideration of particularly harsh sentences imposed on young people., among other important criminal justice reform priorities. The Public Health Emergency Credit bill – S2159/A4235 – would speed up release of people in prison who are nearing the end of their sentencing. The Public Health Emergency Credit bill is expected to come up for a floor vote in the Legislature on Thursday, July 30.
The following can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Senior Supervising Attorney Alexander Shalom:
“COVID-19 has shown the urgency of ending the injustices and racial biases built into our sentencing laws, and this package of bills, together with the Public Health Emergency Credit bill, has the power to drive down the number of people who are incarcerated, and to challenge New Jersey’s staggering, worst-in-the-country racial disparities in its prisons.
“At a moment when the country broadly recognizes the racial injustices embedded in our laws, we need these bills to eliminate or reduce some of our mandatory minimums and allow courts to acknowledge that children must receive protections in our criminal justice system, – along with public health credits to address the immediate public health crisis that has emerged as a direct result of our long-unjust sentencing laws. This is a critical moment, and we need the Legislature to pass these bills quickly and for Gov. Murphy to sign them as soon as possible.”