State Senators Sandra Cunningham and Nellie Pou recently wrote an opinion piece advocating for their recently-introduced criminal justice reform legislation, the centerpiece of which involves the repeal of New Jersey’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
New Jersey Legislature Considering Reforms to Sentencing Laws
State Senators Cunningham and Pou have introduced six bills intended to further the ongoing process of criminal justice reform in New Jersey. The legislation adopts many of the recommendations proposed by the state’s Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission. State Senators Cunningham and Pou intend for their legislation to remedy the lack of proportionality in New Jersey’s sentencing laws, in particular by reducing and outright eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain criminal offenses.
Effects of Mandatory Minimum Sentences on Defendants of Color
State Senators Cunningham and Pou noted the commissions’ finding that, of inmates serving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, 2,532 were African American, 616 were Hispanic, and 447 were white. Reflected against New Jersey’s population, this means that African Americans were 25 times more and Hispanic people five times more likely to be convicted of drug offenses with mandatory minimum sentences.
State Senators Cunningham and Pou noted that if mandatory minimums were not in effect, 68 percent of Black people and 59 percent of Hispanic people currently incarcerated for drug crimes would be immediately eligible for parole, thereby cutting the Black prison population by as much as 15 percent.
In particular, the state senators noted the disparate impacts of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes committed with 1,000 feet of school zones. Of inmates convicted of these offenses, 77 percent are African American, which the state senators argue reflect the fact that densely-populated urban areas are populated by persons of color, and that in these areas nearly every property is within 1,000 feet of a school zone. The proposed legislation would reduce or eliminate many of these mandatory minimum sentences and apply the amendments retroactively.
Other legislative proposals brought forth by the state senators include a provision allowing sentencing judges to consider a defendant’s youth as a mitigating factor, creating a “compassionate release” program building upon the medical release program put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing for release opportunities for offenders sentenced to 30 years or more for offenses committed while juveniles, and improving the Department of Corrections’ data collection.
Previous Criminal Justice Reforms Enacted in New Jersey
State Senators Cunningham and Pou noted previous criminal justice measures implemented in New Jersey, including 2015’s “ban-the-box” law that restricted employers from inquiring about criminal records during initial employment interviews, so as to give individuals the opportunity to have a dialogue about past criminal history rather than being denied employment out of hand.
In addition, the state also enacted juvenile criminal justice reforms, including reductions in the use of solitary confinement, increasing the minimum age for eligibility for waiver into the adult criminal justice system, providing due process protections for juveniles facing transfer to adult jails and prisons, and reducing reliance on incarceration and out-of-home placements for juvenile offenders.
New Jersey’s Criminal Justice Reform Act also changed the pretrial release system from a monetary bail-based system to a risk-based system that allows more defendants to avoid the harsh consequences of pretrial detention. The legislature also passed a bill that requires the attorney general’s office to take over investigation of police-related deaths and to move any trial to a different county. Finally, the state also expanded criminal record expungement eligibility.
Contact an Experienced Newark Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Charges in New Jersey
Were you arrested or charged in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at Hercules Law Group, LLC have successfully represented clients charged in Gloucester County, Camden County, Burlington County, and throughout New Jersey. Call (856) 372-5922 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 1 Gateway Center, Newark, NJ 07103, as well as offices located in Hamilton Township, Vineland, Freehold, Toms River, Neptune City, New Brunswick, Bridgewater, Princeton, Hoboken, Morristown, Jersey City, Flemington, Montclair, Hackensack, and New York City, NY.
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