In Vote to Advance the Opportunity to Compete Act, Labor Committee Recognized the Business Case for A3837

Let's take another moment to reflect upon Monday's victories: the Star Ledger's endorsement of the Opportunity to Compete Act (A3837) and the Assembly Labor Committee's vote to advance the bill. In the midst of doubt over whether the bill would move, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15), a primary sponsor of the bill, responded within a week by gathering enough support to put the bill on the Labor Committee agenda and rallying proponents to vote the bill out of committee. The vote to advance the bill has roused momentum for this critically important piece of legislation. While we still have much work ahead of us, the arc indeed is bending closer and closer to justice.




Proposed Act Gives Job Seekers With Criminal Records a Fair Chance

New Jersey Law Journal July 19, 2013 What the Opportunity to Compete Act would do is provide people a reasonable chance to get a job and work hard. Nothing more, nothing less. To read full letter to the editor, click below. New Jersey Law Journal letter to the editor regarding New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act By Cornell William Brooks, Esq., and Craig Levine, Esq., of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice  

Groups seek to end solitary confinement of juveniles in N.J.

Seeking to end solitary confinement of children in New Jersey juvenile detention centers, civil rights organizations on Monday filed a petition with the state proposing new limits on what they say is a psychologically damaging - and poorly regulated - form of discipline.

Led by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, nine groups are pushing for changes to the rules governing juvenile detention centers, including eliminating the state's authority to hold children for up to five days in solitary confinement as punishment or pending a disciplinary hearing.

The petition cites an "emerging body of social scientific literature" about the harmful effects of solitary confinement - particularly on young people - and a movement nationwide to eliminate or restrict the practice.In New Jersey, state officials have released no data on the numbers of children being held in isolation in detention centers.

But the groups behind the petition say the practice is common, often administered arbitrarily - and sometimes with devastating consequences.One boy, in trouble for stealing a bicycle, hung himself some years ago after he was placed in an isolation cell, said Bonnie Kerness of the American Friends Service Committee, one of the groups that signed the petition.


Groups Seek Limited Use of Solitary Confinement for Offenders in NJ's Juvenile Justice System

TRENTON, New Jersey — New Jersey's American Civil Liberties Union and other groups met with state officials Monday to push for strict limits on the use of solitary confinement of juveniles held in state custody.

They told representatives from the Attorney General's office and the Juvenile Justice Commission that the young offenders have complained to them about being sent to isolation and left without food or clothes for days.

Currently, juveniles can be isolated for up to five days at a time and a total of 10 days per month as punishment for bad behavior in the detention center. But some claim they were left much longer and for minor infractions.


ACLU, Other Groups Want N.J. to Limit Use of Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of religious, social services and children’s groups today will ask New Jersey to ban using solitary confinement as punishment for juveniles in state and county detention facilities. The state allows for juvenile offenders to be locked away in their rooms for up to five straight days as disciplinary punishment. Corrections officials in the United States have said it’s a needed tool. The ACLU and the groups say the practice goes against the mission of juvenile detention centers: to rehabilitate young people, all of whom will be released. "These are folks who are getting out, and we have an obligation to ensure both that they’re rehabilitated, and also that they’re not horribly damaged," said Alex Shalom, the policy counsel of the ACLU in New Jersey. "I think this is a real opportunity for New Jersey to take a leadership role." 

Following Meeting, ACLU Optimistic N.J. Will Limit Use of Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

After meeting with top officials with New Jersey’s Juvenile Justice Commission and the Attorney General’s Office Monday, an American Civil Liberties Union leader said he is optimistic the state will act on the group’s call to limit solitary confinement for juveniles in state and county detention facilities. The meeting came as the ACLU and a coalition of religious, social services and children’s organizations filed a petition asking the state to change its rules on confining juvenile offenders. "I feel really encouraged by the meeting," said Alex Shalom, policy counsel for the state ACLU. 

N.J. Lawmakers Hear Plea on 'Ban the Box'

Former drug dealer Micah Khan, 33, of Camden, went to Trenton on Monday to make another kind of sale. A single father who struggled to get a job when he got out of prison in 2007, Khan wanted to sell New Jersey lawmakers on the importance of proposed legislation that would help people with a background like his find work. "This is a lifesaving bill because it brings hope," he said at a Senate Labor Committee hearing, squeezed in before the end-of-the-session budget sprint toward recess began in earnest Monday afternoon.

Titled "the Opportunity to Compete Act," the proposed law would prohibit employers from asking about an applicant's criminal history until there was a conditional employment offer on the table. "People are not going to be hanging on street corners. They aren't going to be shooting each other if they are working 9 to 5," said Khan, who heads the Nehemiah Group, a prison reentry and renewal ministry in Camden. Khan called himself a realist and said he knows criminal-history questions are going to come up, "but don't disqualify me before you get me in the room."

For Ex-Cons Seeking Work, Let’s ‘Ban the Box’ by the Washington Post

One of my workshops, “Choose to Change,” encourages participants to figure out why they make bad financial choices.

We discuss the decisions that led them to their current situation. In the case of a recent session, the participants were all inmates at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.

During the presentation, one woman tearfully described how she sold drugs so she could buy brand-name clothes, shoes and other items for herself and her children. She was trying to make up for what she didn’t have as a child.

“Now look at me,” she said. “I’m in prison, wearing cheap flip-flops, and I don’t have my freedom and any of the stuff I bought.”

I was moved by how forthcoming the women were. Many had similar stories: They committed crimes to support a lifestyle they couldn’t afford but thought they were entitled to. Their testimonies weren’t about offering excuses. They owned up to their mistakes and the damage they had done. They were eager to learn strategies to make better choices.

Audit Questions $23M in Benefits for N.J. Inmates

A clunky computerized data system that maintained information on inmates in New Jersey's county jails was largely responsible for $23.6 million in unemployment benefits, Medicaid coverage, food stamps, and cash assistance received by those behind bars, state Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer said Wednesday.

In most of the cases, the benefits were improperly paid. The inmates - 20,000 in all - were not qualified for them since they were receiving room, board, and medical care while in prison, Boxer said.

"The data was there, but no one was using it," Boxer said Wednesday, hours after his office released a 28-page audit on the payments. "The data hadn't been massaged in a way that was usable."