NEWARK - Upon President Obama’s visit to Newark to announce initiatives to reform the criminal justice system in the United States, the ACLU-NJ issues a statement praising these efforts and recommending proposals to make the criminal justice system fairer. During his trip to Newark, President Obama will focus primarily on easing prisoners’ reentry into society after incarceration as one part of larger plans to make the criminal justice system more humane.
The following statement is attributable to ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer:
“The ACLU of New Jersey welcomes President Barack Obama to Newark, and applauds the leadership of the president, United States Senator Cory Booker, and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in fixing our nation's broken criminal justice system. The United States currently holds 2.2 million people in prison, up from fewer than 350,000 in 1972. With five percent of the world’s population, the United States has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.
“While New Jersey has worked to reduce its prison population, the state still imprisons far too many people; and they are disproportionately from low-income communities of color. If New Jersey were its own country, it would have the second highest incarceration rate in the world, just behind Cuba. Beyond the high number of prisoners, New Jersey still suffers under the tremendous racial disparity that plagues the criminal justice system across the nation. People from communities of color make up more than three quarters of all prisoners in New Jersey.
“In order to replace this broken system of mass incarceration with a smarter system of criminal justice, transformative change must happen. Our leaders need to tackle every aspect of the criminal justice system, from arrest to reentry. Reforms must include:
“These solutions will ensure that we create a smart justice system, one that is fair and humane, emphasizes prevention, and uses incarceration only as a last resort. We thank President Obama, Senator Booker, and Mayor Baraka for their vision and bold leadership on this vital civil rights issue.”
NEWARK - On the most important civil liberties issues facing the 216th Legislature, a majority in the General Assembly voted with the ACLU of New Jersey at least 90 percent of the time.
The first-ever ACLU-NJ legislative scorecard tracks the records of Assembly members on 13 key issues votes during the legislative session that began Jan. 2014. In the run-up to the Nov. 3 election, in which Assembly members are at the top of the ticket, the ACLU-NJ is releasing a scorecard of those votes to educate the public at large as well as its 20,000 members and donors who live in every single legislative district in the state. The information can be found online at https://www.aclu-nj.org/scorecard. It includes a table showing how every Assembly member voted on the issues and allows users to learn details about the scored bills, compare Assembly members’ voting records, find out who made the Honor Roll, and look up scores for legislative districts and an interactive map of New Jersey.
“The good news is that most Assembly members vote for civil liberties and civil rights most of the time. The bad news is that our elected officials aren’t always there when it counts, like with the bill to allow transgender New Jerseyans access to birth certificates that reflect their true gender,” said Ari Rosmarin, ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director. “With this kind of sound information, civil rights voters can hold elected officials accountable because they know where their representatives stand on the key issues of the day when they go to the polls.”
Of the hundreds of bills the Legislature considered, the ACLU-NJ identified 13 votes as the most central to civil rights and civil liberties, including legislation to:
Out of New Jersey’s 80 Assembly members, 32 – or 40 percent – made the ACLU-NJ’s Honor Roll, with ratings of 100 percent.
The lowest rating belonged to Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin (R-Brick) at 38 percent. Eight other members of the Assembly scored below 50 percent and also earned a spot on the ACLU-NJ’s less-than 50 percent list.
“Above all, this scorecard is a tool for public accountability. We created it to allow New Jerseyans to learn where their lawmakers stand on key issues involving our rights and freedoms,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “We’re here to ensure those who have taken a stand for our fundamental civil rights continue to act in defense of our rights and liberties, and we’re here to put pressure on those who need a refresher in what it means to defend the rights of the people. Our goal is for every elected official to achieve a 100 percent rating. Even more importantly, our goal is for every resident of New Jersey to know where their representatives stand.”
The ACLU-NJ will continue to monitor important votes as the Legislature returns for its biennial lame-duck session after the election and before the 217th Legislature is convened in January. An updated scorecard, including scores for the Senate, will mark the end of the legislative term.
Visit https://www.aclu-nj.org/scorecard to read the scorecard online, look up legislative districts, compare Assembly members on an interactive map of New Jersey, and learn about the details of the scored bills in more detail.
TRENTON -- Governor Christie’s signature of S2003/A4299 will implement significant and much needed reforms to New Jersey’s juvenile justice system. The bill, sponsored by Senators Nellie Pou and Raymond Lesniak, and Assembly Members Shavonda Sumter, Charles Mainor, Benjie Wimberly, and Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, recognizes the critical need for age-appropriate treatment and access to rehabilitation for juveniles who intersect with the criminal justice system. The new law:
“These reforms to the waiver laws are consistent with the substantial body of research establishing that adolescents’ developmental immaturity renders them less culpable than adults”
The New Jersey Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition is pursuing system-wide reforms of New Jersey’s juvenile justice system, including promoting alternatives to incarceration for youth and improving conditions of confinement for those who are incarcerated. Members of the Coalition’s Steering Committee include Advocates for Children of New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest at Lowenstein Sandler, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, and Rutgers Law School Children’s Justice Clinic in Camden and Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic in Newark.
Through legislative advocacy on this bill, as well as executive advocacy and litigation, the Coalition has sought to reform the process and circumstances under which youth may be placed in an adult prison, and to eliminate the practice of solitary confinement of juveniles. The Coalition applauds the extraordinary leadership of Senator Pou, who more than two years ago, began bringing together advocates (including members of the Coalition), retired judges, county prosecutors, the Attorney General's Office, and other stakeholders to discuss New Jersey’s juvenile justice system and how to improve it through these substantial reforms.
“The historic reforms to New Jersey's juvenile justice system just signed into law will make us fairer, smarter, and safer. While there remains more work to do, these changes are a significant step towards making the ‘justice’ in our juvenile justice system a reality,” says Alexander Shalom, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey.
“New Jersey will become the twenty-first state to prohibit the use of punitive solitary confinement by either law or practice, in line with a growing national trend. This is a first and significant step towards reducing the risk of serious harm to juveniles in secure facilities, but we still have a long way to go,” explains Natalie Kraner, Pro Bono Counsel at Lowenstein Sandler. “The new law’s data collection requirement is critical because it will afford transparency to the Juvenile Justice Commission’s continued use of solitary confinement and protect against an overbroad and prolonged use of non-punitive solitary confinement,” adds Kraner.
“Serving time in an adult facility has enormous and lifelong consequences,” remarks Laura Cohen, Director, Criminal and Youth Justice Clinic at Rutgers School of Law. In another important change, youth who have been waived for adult prosecution presumptively will be held in local juvenile detention centers, rather than county jails, while awaiting trial; similarly, any young person who is sentenced to a term of incarceration will be committed to the state's Juvenile Justice Commission until the age of 21 and may remain there beyond that time at the discretion of the Commission. “These reforms to the waiver laws are consistent with the substantial body of research establishing that adolescents’ developmental immaturity renders them less culpable than adults,” explains Cohen.
“While we agree that juveniles should be held accountable for their actions, we must treat juveniles who commit crimes differently than adults. These youth will return to their communities and we must equip them with the skills they need to stay out of trouble and mature into productive adults,” says Mary Cogan, Assistant Director, Advocates for Children of NJ.
“This legislation represents a much-needed paradigm shift in how New Jersey addresses juvenile delinquency issues," adds LaShawn Warren, Vice President and General Counsel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. "It moves the state closer to a rehabilitative model that appropriately factors in developmental considerations of youth and ensures progress toward racial fairness in the state juvenile justice system.”
The following is attributable to Alexander Shalom, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey. The ACLU of New Jersey is a member of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition.
The historic reforms to New Jersey's juvenile justice system signed into law today will make us fairer, smarter, and safer. Solitary confinement of juveniles is a practice that has no place in our state and should only be used as a very last resort. Collecting data on the use of solitary confinement and the practice of trying children as adults will only serve to improve our juvenile justice system. While there remains more work to do, these changes are a significant step towards making the "justice" in our juvenile justice system a reality. The ACLU of NJ thanks Senator Pou, Assemblywoman Sumter for their leadership, and Governor Christie for signing this legislation into law today.
Image: © Richard Ross, www.juvenile-in-justice.com
NEWARK – ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer is scheduled to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Oversight in Washington, DC, this morning from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Ofer’s testimony (PDF) will focus on the over-use of solitary confinement in federal and state prisons, reforms that federal prisons may implement to reduce their incarcerated populations, as well as the significant and successful effort going on in New Jersey to reduce prison populations.
Ofer will be part of a panel of witnesses that includes Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; the Honorable Michael E. Horowitz, Inspector General of the Department of Justice; Jerome Dillard, Reentry Coordinator for Dane County, Wis.; and Piper Kerman, author of the best-selling book, Orange is the New Black. Ofer will testify at the invitation of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
The panel is expected to deliver first-hand accounts of the challenges facing the federal prison system as part of the hearing on oversight of the Bureau of Prisons.
The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement-NJ strongly supports legislation introduced today by state Senator Raymond Lesniak to sharply curtail the use of isolation, sometimes referred to as solitary confinement or segregation, in prisons and jails in
New Jersey. This legislation would also ban the isolation of vulnerable populations such as juveniles and people with mental illness.
The ground-breaking legislation would install limits on and provide safeguards for the use of isolated confinement on all prisoners. It would:
The bill seeks to resist the demonstrated tendency to use isolated confinement as an intervention of first resort, rather than exploring other less harmful interventions, with more positive and lasting effects.
The Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement-NJ believes that isolated confinement should only be utilized in extremely rare circumstances, where safety is immediately at risk and where other alternatives do not exist.
Members of the Campaign praised Senator Lesniak’s leadership on this issue, taking note of New Jersey's persistent history of imposing long-term isolation for years and even decades; the escalating use of isolated confinement as a disciplinary measure for even minor infractions; and the growing acknowledgement among clinicians, legal professionals and human rights advocates of the harm caused by the practice of isolation to all persons, and particularly to young people and people with mental illness.
In 1890 the U.S. Supreme Court noted the damaging impact of solitary confinement, yet the practice of locking prisoners in a cell, alone or with another person, for 22-24 hours a day, continues, not only in New Jersey, but in every state.
A study by the Vera Institute of Justice reported in 2006 that more than 80,000 people in prison are in isolation at any time, not including those in jails or detention centers.
In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture took the position that isolated confinement beyond 15 days should be prohibited because of its devastating psychological toll.
Estimates vary, but Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel for the ACLU National Prison Project, reports that as many as 30% to 50% of all those in isolation suffer from mental illness, although these figures vary by prison and state.
If enacted, the legislation introduced by Senator Lesniak would put New Jersey among the states at the forefront of an initiative that is becoming critically important for corrections departments nationwide. It would also stimulate efforts to develop alternative interventions with less harmful implications for those who are currently incarcerated, correctional staff, families and communities throughout New Jersey to which returning citizens will one day return.
A half-dozen states have considered taking steps to ban isolated confinement completely, but few have taken such action. Last year, Colorado became only the second state to ban isolated confinement for people with serious mental illness. Nearly a year ago, New York banned solitary confinement for juveniles as a result of a class action lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
NEWARK -- A federal district court judge last week rejected a second attempt by Monmouth County to block public access to a jail surveillance video that captured the last hours of Amit Bornstein, who died on July 29, 2010, after being restrained at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution. Today, that video was made available.
The video was publicly filed in court earlier this year in the course of a wrongful death lawsuit, but Monmouth County requested that the video be sealed after a news organization tried to obtain a copy. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the release of the video.
In September, a federal magistrate judge ruled in favor of public access, and the county appealed.
On November 14, 2015, a federal district court judge affirmed the decision. After examining the county’s security concerns, the court determined that, in this case, those concerns were not sufficiently compelling to warrant the sealing of the video. The court noted that there is a “strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial proceedings, which is especially applicable here where the case involves a public entity and addresses matters of public concern.”
“Today’s release of the jail video is an important moment for the public. Jails are among society’s most closed institutions, with prisoners dependent on the government to provide their most basic needs," ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero said.
"Jail staff are responsible for the health and well-being of people in their custody," said LoCicero, who wrote the ACLU-NJ’s amicus brief in the case. "When someone dies in their care, the public should have access to as much information as possible in order to properly evaluate the actions of correctional staff involved and the work of those who investigate the death.”
NEWARK – American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Executive Director Udi Ofer offered the following statement on the passage of Ballot Question 1:
“This is truly a historic day for New Jersey, one in which the people of our state recognized injustice and demanded that it change. A bipartisan effort in the Legislature, the governor’s signature and tonight’s overwhelming support at the polls puts New Jersey on the path toward greater justice.
“Within a few years, we will no longer see thousands of people languishing in New Jersey jails simply because they cannot afford to post bail. Society does not benefit when people are made to await trial behind bars for months or even years simply because they cannot afford a few thousand dollars in bail. These debtors’ prisons must end. We will also see, for the first time, meaningful speedy trial protections in New Jersey.
“New Jersey civil rights, public safety, and criminal justice reform organizations, including the Drug Policy Alliance, came together in an unprecedented way to make these critical reforms happen. The ACLU-NJ is grateful to all who worked so hard to make tonight's victory a reality.
“Our criminal justice system today is plagued with grave inequities, especially for poor people and people of color. The passage of this amendment is an important step toward creating a criminal justice system that treats people equitably regardless of their wealth. More reforms are needed and we have work ahead of us to achieve them, but, today, we celebrate the remarkable milestone of true bail reform in the state of New Jersey.”
NEWARK – The ACLU-NJ will hold a conference call tomorrow, Wednesday Oct. 29 at 12:30 p.m., geared toward members of the public but open to members of the press to explain why it’s imperative for New Jerseyans to vote yes on Ballot Question 1. The public and press may ask questions via Twitter, Facebook, or email.
Conference call for the public to discuss why NJ should vote yes on Ballot Question 1
Call in Number: 862-234-4800
Access Code: 17372476#
Webinar URL: http://join.onstreammedia.com/go/56598110/Question1
Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 12:30 p.m.
Ballot Question 1 is a key part of creating real bail reform that focuses on a defendant’s risk to society rather than a defendant’s ability to afford bail. When implemented, this will result in thousands fewer people being detained pretrial.
The reforms also give New Jersey real speedy-trial protection for the first time in its history.
The passage of Ballot Question 1 would allow a historic, bi-partisan bail reform package signed into law this summer by Governor Christie to go into effect, which is why the ACLU-NJ supports the question.
The ACLU-NJ saw a victory for transparency in a federal court decision issued last week (PDF) that rejected Monmouth County’s rationale for trying to seal a video recording of a man who died after being restrained at Monmouth County Correctional Institution. The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey sided with the position the ACLU-NJ put forth in an amicus brief for the case, Bornstein v. County of Monmouth.
“The court was correct to recognize that when a person dies while in the care of a public agency, the public deserves an explanation, not secrecy,” said ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero, who wrote the ACLU-NJ’s amicus brief (PDF) in the case. “The public’s interest in understanding the circumstances surrounding a person’s death in county custody far outweighs what the court identified as vague speculation about the potential harms that could come from releasing the footage.”
In July 2010, Amit Bornstein died in Monmouth County Jail after having been booked for failure to appear in court. In the course of a wrongful death lawsuit following his death, Monmouth County sought to seal the previously publicly available security camera footage from the incident only after a third party tried to obtain copies. The footage showed the jail’s booking area and constant-watch area. In his ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas E. Arpert pointed out the insufficiency of Monmouth County’s arguments that releasing the tape would jeopardize public safety generally, especially in contrast to the many arguments in favor of leaning toward public disclosure.
“Here, defendants have failed to identify the particularized harm that would result from the public disclosure of the security footage,” said Judge Arpert’s Aug. 27 opinion, which also mentioned less restrictive alternatives Monmouth County could have sought to sealing the entire tape.