NJ Together, ACLU call on state leaders to find common ground on minimum sentencing reforms

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New Jersey Together and the ACLU called on Gov. Phil Murphy and the state legislature to find common ground on removing mandatory minimum sentencing reforms, a bill that has remained stalled for the past few months.

Screenshot via Zoom.

By Daniel Ulloa/Hudson County View

“We will never have a fair and just criminal justice system until we address this issue. Justice delayed is justice denied,” Rev. Dr. Willard Ashby, of the Abundant Joy Community Church in Jersey City – also a member of Jersey City Together – said during a Zoom call this morning.

Bill S-2586 would eliminate mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment in New Jersey for crimes such as minor drug possession and burglary.

State Senators Sandra Cunningham (D-31) and Nellie Pou (D-35) introduced the bill in June, but it has been stalled since September after their colleague Nick Sacco, also the North Bergen mayor, amended the bill to include official misconduct.

“I’m here today because I’m angered … There’s injustice in New Jersey,” added Rev. Dr. Alonzo Perry, Sr. of New Hope Missionary Church in Jersey City.

“The reality is that I very well could have been subject to mandatory minimums.”

Perry explained that since minorities are disproportionately arrested in school zones, which dominate cities across New Jersey, they receive mandatory minimum sentences.

He also pointed out that the state passed a referendum legalizing cannabis, but has yet to release people jailed for cannabis-related crimes.

He urged the legislature to pass the bill next week on December 17th, their last session of 2020.

“New Jersey is beginning to look like Alabama,” Perry added regarding racial disparities.

A non-partisan commission identified mandatory minimums as drivers of the racial disparities in New Jersey’s prison system.

These disparities are the worst in the country, with African Americans 12 times more likely to be in state prison than whites, New Jersey Together pointed out.

“It is essential that this legislation be enacted if we are truly serious about racial justice,” said Joe Krakora, the state public defender who served on the non-partisan State Sentencing Commission.

“It has been over a year since the Sentencing Commission recommended their elimination, a recommendation endorsed by the attorney general and every stakeholder on the Commission.”

Similar attempts at reform have stalled in New Jersey for more than 10 years.

“These bills present a rare opportunity to both reduce mass incarceration and address New Jersey’s worst-in-the-nation racial disparities,” noted ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo.

“The bills extend an opportunity to those who were sentenced as kids to lengthy sentences an opportunity to prove they’re more than their worst act, eliminate mandatory minimums retroactively for offenses that no longer carry mandatory minimum sentences, and reduce several mandatory minimums.”

Today’s coalition took no position today on whether or not the bill should include official misconduct, instead stressing the importance of finding common ground ahead of next Thursday’s hearing.

If the bill does not receive a vote, it will need to start from scratch and be reintroduced in 2021.

Sacco has been accused of amending the bill in order to help political allies, but he pushed back against that in an editorial published in the Star-Ledger back in October.