For Immediate Release
Contact: Richelle Terese
On Monday, the Legislature will hold hearings on several bills that, if passed, will undoubtedly roll back criminal legal reforms that advocates across the state have worked tirelessly to achieve. What we need is a legislature that responds to the needs and concerns of communities with data-informed policy; policy that is grounded in the science about public safety, not punitive and draconian narratives that play into resident fears.
What we need are policies that recognize and center the humanity of all people.
The data is clear, “tough on crime” policies fail to address the root causes of crime and create disproportionately negative effects on Black communities. The racial disparities in New Jersey are regularly some of the worst in the nation. Black residents are incarcerated at a rate of 12.5 times more than white residents. While Black residents make up just 15% of the state population, we represent 43% of the arrests for drug violations, even though there is no evidence that Blacks use drugs at higher rates than whites. Black youth are at least 18 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth, even though children offend at about the same rate regardless of race.
In New Jersey, we constantly witness policies in writing that don’t align with policymakers’ words. Time and time again the “thoughts and prayers” shared to communities impacted by punitive policies are only met with more of the same, worsening racial disparities and subjecting future generations to irreparable harm by the hands of the carceral system.
These policies are not based on data or evidence. Nor are they rooted in any deep commitment to justice or public safety. These policies are driven by the exploitation of legitimate concerns through fearmongering and racially biased narratives.
These policies will not keep our communities safer. These policies will not solve the problem. In fact, these policies are a large part of the problem.
It is often said that budgets reflect our values and priorities. If lawmakers truly value the safety of New Jersey’s communities and residents, that is best demonstrated through significant investments in housing, education, health care and community led solutions. We don’t solve the issue of substance use and overdose by increasing penalties for possession. Instead, we should invest in increased services for communities by funding harm reduction efforts and community-led first response teams trained to respond to substance use and mental health calls free from police intervention or presence.
We address the issue of auto theft and the increase of gang recruitment of our youth not by incarcerating them, but by investing in restorative justice hubs and community spaces that house critical programs specific to the needs of our young people and communities.
In that spirit, we would like to remind lawmakers of the following:
First, its commitment to ensuring a fairer, more just, and more equitable state. Do these policies that are being pushed with such fervor uphold that commitment? And while shameful at any time of the year, to advance these bills during Black history month, given all we know about racial disparities in this state, only further demonstrates the tone deafness and indifference to structural racism that has informed countless laws throughout this state’s history.
Second, not only does the state have a commitment to ensuring justice and equity, but it also has a mechanism at its disposal to ensure that policies that are advanced do just that. That mechanism is racial impact analysis statements. In 2018, the legislature passed S677 requiring that the Office of Legislative Services prepare racial impact statements for policy changes that affect pretrial detention, sentencing and parole. The nine bills that are scheduled to be heard in committee on Monday will affect each of those areas, and it is for this reason that we urge the Legislature to request racial impact statements for each of the following bills. Not just in the name of equity and justice but because they are required to by law.
We have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. We cannot incarcerate our way to public safety. We urge lawmakers to vote “no” on the following bills, and at the very least request racial impact statements as is required by law.
We look forward to working closely with this administration, the Legislature and advocate partners to bring about the New Jersey that has been promised and the one that New Jerseyans deserve.
S3096--- Upgrades penalties for certain crimes involving heroin and fentanyl; establishes new crimes concerning heroin mixtures; allows certain defendants to be eligible for drug court
S3325--- Enhances penalties for possession, distribution, and manufacture of certain amounts of fentanyl.
S3346— Upgrades burglary of residence to crime of the second degree
Senate Budget and Appropriations
S2284---Upgrades motor vehicle theft to second degree crime
S3006--- Increases penalties for repeat convictions of certain motor vehicle related crimes; increases penalties for leader of auto theft trafficking network in certain circumstances
S3345--- Upgrades crime of leader of auto theft trafficking network; establishes second degree crime of participant in auto theft trafficking network
S3389--- Establishes crimes of theft of motor vehicle and receiving stolen motor vehicle as separate statutory provisions; provides extended sentences for certain persistent offenders
S3390--- Expands criminal penalties related to illegal use of motor vehicle master key
Assembly Law and Public Safety
A5034--- Upgrades crime of leader of auto theft trafficking network; establishes second degree crime of participant in auto theft trafficking network