NJ Juvenile Justice Reform Coalition Applauds Reform Bill Signed into Law

August 17, 2015
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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”

  • Raises the minimum age at which a child may be prosecuted as an adult from 14 to 15, narrows the list of offenses that can lead to prosecution as an adult, and amends the standard governing such decisions to reflect the continuing maturation of young people through their mid-twenties;
  • Requires due process, including representation by counsel, before a young person who is confined in a juvenile facility can be transferred to an adult prison; and
  • Eliminates the use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure in juvenile facilities and detention centers, and places time limits on the use of solitary confinement for reasons other than punishment, such as safety concerns.

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.”

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ACLU-NJ Cheers Signing of S2003, Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation

August 10, 2015
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Juvenile Justice

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

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ACLU-NJ Executive Director Testifies at U.S. Senate Hearing

August 4, 2015
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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.

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Issue: Prisons

Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement Praises

December 2, 2014
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Legislation would sharply curtail isolation in correctional facilities and ban its use for people with mental illness, juveniles, and other vulnerable populations.

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:

  • permit the use of isolated confinement of adults only when the prisoner presents a significant and immediate danger to self or others and other alternatives would not ensure the safety of all involved;
  • impose limits on the length of time an prisoner may be allowed in solitary confinement;
  • require that when isolated confinement is used, the prisoner be actively monitored by corrections personnel and mental health professionals; and
  • mandate public reporting of the use of isolation.

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.

  • “The diverse faith traditions represented by NRCAT hold in common a belief in the dignity of each human person. We share a conviction that the widespread use of isolated confinement in New Jersey prisons, jails and detention centers violates basic human rights and religious values of community. Further, we feel that isolated confinement is disproportionately impacting persons and communities of color. This bill, by putting strict limits on the torturous practice of isolated confinement, will hopefully help redirect jail and prison resources toward creative forms of rehabilitation and restorative justice. I'm proud that with this bill New Jersey can become a leader on ending the torture of solitary confinement in America," said Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
  • “Long-term solitary confinement is cruel, expensive and ineffective. Isolation creates and exacerbates symptoms of mental illness in prisoners, undermines successful re-entry into society and jeopardizes public safety. Meanwhile, states that have reduced their isolated confinement populations have saved millions and seen violence plummet,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom.
  • “The American Friends Service Committee stands with the UN Committee on Torture in condemning the US practice of imposing prolonged isolation on prisoners. While the US government insists that there “is no systematic use of solitary confinement”, the AFSC, a Quaker organization, has abundant evidence and testimonies to the contrary. The lack of human contact is considered no touch torture and has to be abolished as an affront to standards of international human, civil and political rights,” said Bonnie Kerness, director of AFSC's Prison Watch Project.
  • The People's Organization for Progress “is profoundly concerned about the role of prisons in our society and the phenomenon of mass incarceration which disproportionately affects people of color and people suffering economically in our country. We are equally concerned about the conditions under which people are confined in our public and privatized jails and prisons. We are gratified that because of the courageous actions of people directly affected and at risk, community organizations, health care and legal professionals, communities of faith, public officials and international entities are finally drawing attention to this practice. Because the State of New Jersey was the first state to legislatively abolish the death penalty, we are optimistic that our legislature will act to abolish solitary confinement as it is currently practiced in our state,” said Jean Ross, a Princeton-area lawyer who works with the People’s Organization for Progress.

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.

Statement on Release of Monmouth County Jail Video

November 24, 2014
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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.”

ACLU-NJ Statement on Passage of Ballot Question 1; Vote Cements Historic Bail Reform in NJ

November 5, 2014
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NEWARK – American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Executive Director Udi Ofer offered the following statement on the passage of Ballot Question 1:

Udi Ofer

“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.”

ACLU-NJ to Hold Wednesday Conference Call Demystifying NJ Ballot Question 1

October 28, 2014
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Question 1 Bail Reform

Call will explain why NJ should vote yes on Ballot Question 1

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 Details

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.


ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom will answer questions, and ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin will moderate.


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.

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Court Gives Public Access to Footage of Man Who Died in Monmouth Jail

September 2, 2014
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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.

ACLU-NJ Applauds Union County for First Countywide Policy in NJ Declining Immigration Detainer Requests

August 12, 2014
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Union County leads New Jersey counties in ensuring constitutional protections that build trust among immigrant communities, joining jurisdictions across the country that refuse to honor ICE detainer requests

NEWARK – Union County has become the first New Jersey county to formally adopt a policy declining to hold (PDF) individuals in its jail based on requests issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The move comes in response to a July 15, 2014, request (PDF) from the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ).

ICE routinely issues requests to jails and law enforcement agencies to hold people detained in their facilities for up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) longer than they would otherwise be released because of suspected civil immigration offenses. Until recently, all New Jersey’s county jails routinely honored those requests although they are not legally binding.

Union County’s new practice, in effect as of August 4, 2014, requires the Union County Department of Corrections to release individuals on their scheduled release date unless county officials receive a warrant, court order or other legally sufficient proof of probable cause from ICE. According to ICE data reported by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, between October 2011 and August 2013, Union County received at least 326 detainer requests, sixty percent of which were aimed at individuals who had not been convicted of any criminal offense.

“We applaud Union County officials for recognizing the critical importance of fostering trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement,” said Ari Rosmarin, Public Policy Director at the ACLU-NJ. “The county has discontinued a practice that seriously undermined public safety, posed significant constitutional concerns, and exposed the county to significant liability. We hope and expect other New Jersey counties will follow Union’s lead in adopting similar policies.”

At least two other New Jersey counties have also indicated that they will limit the practice of honoring detainer requests. Both Ocean (PDF) and Middlesex (PDF) Counties will now follow a policy to honor detainer requests only for individuals charged with certain crimes. While these policies represent progress, they both fail at insulating the counties from liability and at sending a clear message to immigrant communities that the counties are not in the business of enforcing immigration law for the federal government. The ACLU-NJ has also been made aware that Camden County has formally changed its policy with regard to honoring immigration detainer requests. However, the ACLU-NJ has not received a copy of Camden’s policy and therefore its contours remain uncertain at this time.

“It is an improvement when even one fewer person is unlawfully held in jail,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Even so, counties that honor any detainer requests not only ignore the constitutional rights of detainees, but they also shortchange community trust and public safety, all while risking enormous financial consequences. Union County’s approach serves all of the county’s residents and serves as a model for the state and nation.”

Immigration detainers transfer the costs and responsibilities of immigration enforcement from the federal government to local jurisdictions, which lack the resources and authority to enforce immigration law. New Jersey jails have no authority under New Jersey law to deprive people of their liberty based solely on an immigration detainer request. In Galarza v. Szalczyk, a 2014 Third Circuit case brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project involving the detention of a Perth Amboy-born man at the request of ICE, Lehigh County, Pa., paid out a nearly $100,000 settlement for unlawfully keeping him in custody. As a result, the Lehigh County Board of Commissions voted unanimously to end the county’s policy of imprisoning people based on ICE detainer requests.

Recent months have given rise to a national wave of local jurisdictions issuing policies refusing to honor ICE detainer requests. To date, over 160 jurisdictions outside of New Jersey have decided to stop automatically honoring detainer requests, including Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, and the states of California and Connecticut.

Recently, several federal courts have made clear that detainer requests are non-binding and that local authorities, and not ICE, are ultimately liable for violations of constitutional rights that result from honoring immigration detainer requests. The ACLU-NJ letter made clear that the organization is prepared to take legal action should a prisoner in New Jersey custody be held unconstitutionally as a result of an ICE detainer request. The ACLU-NJ also warned counties that unless they decline to honor any ICE detainer requests without judicial findings of probable cause or warrant, they expose themselves to unnecessary liability.

The ACLU-NJ, in partnership with immigrants’ rights, community, and faith organizations across New Jersey, will continue to urge counties statewide to follow Union County’s lead and end their policies of choosing to honor ICE detainer requests.

N.J. Supreme Court Recognizes Right to Self-Representation for Individuals Facing Civil Commitment

July 24, 2014
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Trenton – In a unanimous decision today, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that individuals have a statutory right to self-representation when facing civil commitment proceedings after serving a criminal sentence for a sexual offense. Following initial briefing and oral argument, the Supreme Court asked Lowenstein Sandler to submit a supplemental, friend-of-the-court brief to elucidate the novel substantive due process issues raised by this appeal. Lowenstein, as pro bono counsel for Amici Curiae the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation (ACLU) and Disability Rights New Jersey, Inc., submitted a brief and participated in reargument, contending that individuals facing involuntary civil commitment should be constitutionally entitled to represent themselves.

The Court ruled instead on statutory grounds. The Court read the relevant provision, which prevents a person subject to involuntary commitment because of a sexual disorder from appearing at the hearing “without counsel,” to permit self-representation so long as standby counsel is present to advise the individual and help manage the proceedings. In reaching this conclusion, the Court relied on the nation’s, and New Jersey’s, long history of permitting individuals to represent themselves so long as they are competent to make the decision to waive the right to counsel.

“The U.S. Supreme Court recognized decades ago that the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to counsel in criminal prosecutions should not prevent competent individuals from choosing to present their own defense,” said Alexander Shalom, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU. “Civil commitment carries the potential for even more severe consequences, with potentially indefinite confinement.”

Joseph Young, executive director of Disability Rights New Jersey, adds, “Many people facing civil commitment, especially those who may be confined because of a sexual disorder, have the capacity to represent themselves. While most will choose to be represented by counsel, there is no justification for forcing that choice on unwilling, competent individuals.”

“We are gratified to work in a state where the Supreme Court’s high regard for individual rights leads it to request additional briefing and argument on significant issues that implicate these rights,” said Lawrence Bluestone, associate at Lowenstein. “Today, the Court agreed that the autonomy interests enshrined in our country’s and state’s history should be honored when the state seeks to deprive someone of his or her liberty under this civil commitment statute.”

In re Civil Commitment of D.Y.: http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/opinions/index.htm.

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