The Institute’s Legal Program deploys a range of tools in support of the entirety of the Institute’s program including: legislative and regulatory research and advocacy; policy research and advocacy (including model program development); judicial process improvement efforts; consulting to government; serving on state and local commissions; collaborating with other state and national advocacy organizations, private law firms, law schools and law students; serving as in-house counsel to the Institute and engaging in strategic litigation.
Please click the headlines below to read more about NJISJ’s Legal initiatives.
Juvenile Waiver Report
New Jersey Institute for Social Justice has recently completed the most comprehensive study of a state’s juvenile waiver law in the country. The report can be dowloaded here.
Juvenile Waiver Reform
In 1999, New Jersey’s State Legislature modified the juvenile waiver law, which made it much easier to move a child to the adult court system. The initial hope was that trying cases involving youth in adult court would improve public safety. Legislators were not aware at that time that the peak in juvenile violent crime in New Jersey had already passed and juvenile violence would continue to decline. They also did not have the benefit of recent adolescent brain research or newly available juvenile crime and waiver data, both of which raise significant questions about the assumptions underlying the law. In all, the last 12 years have shed important light on how this law has worked in practice and the need for it to be changed to achieve its original purpose.
Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative
We remain engaged with the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), both statewide and in Essex County. This effort ensures that secure detention is only used in cases where such an intervention is necessary to protect public safety or ensure court appearance. Unnecessary juvenile detention is highly correlated with numerous negative life outcomes.
In Essex County, where the Institute has served as facilitator for the local JDAI, the use of detention has declined by more than 50%, from an average daily population of 244 in 2003 to 103 in 2009. We also contributed to the development of a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI) which will render detention decisions more fact-based and uniform statewide.
Driver’s Licence Restoration
One major barrier to economic opportunity in New Jersey is public policy related to driver’s license suspension. Of the approximately 900,000 driver’s license suspensions issued each year, more than half are for financial reasons–the failure to pay fines and fees. These problems occur disproportionately among low income urban residents. With most of job growth occurring in suburban areas poorly served by public transportation, lack of a license puts good jobs out of reach for those who need them the most.
The Institute works to inform policymakers, advocates, employers and New Jersey residents about the impact of license suspension and the need for policy reform to reduce this costly barrier to employment. The Institute has also provided practical tools to help individuals overcome that barrier.
Please click the headlines below to read more about NJISJ’s previous Legal Programs.
Of the nearly 70,000 adults and 8,000 juveniles expected to leave New Jersey correctional facilities over the next several years, it is estimated that two-thirds will be re-arrested within three years of release. Meanwhile, annual state spending on correction and supervision has rapidly increased to more than $1 billion in recent years. The challenges posed by this costly cycle of recidivism have been central to the Institute’s Prisoner Reentry initiative. For urban areas like Newark, Camden, and Trenton, prisoner reentry is about more than criminal justice. It is a fundamental community development issue.
Minimum Wage Campaign
The Institute is a founding member of the New Jersey Raise the Wage Campaign, a coalition of organizations seeking to increase the state minimum wage to at least $8.50 per hour; to index it, so it maintains its purchasing power over time; and to implement a sub-minimum cash wage for tipped workers (New Jersey is one of only two states without one).
On July 11th, the Institute hosted a Raise the Wage Campaign event in support of these proposals. Former Senator John Edwards, who now serves as the Chair of the Half in Ten Campaign (which aims to cut poverty in the United States in half over the next decade), attended to lend his voice to the effort.
The last time the Legislature increased New Jersey’s minimum wage, it declined to index it, preferring to leave future increases to the whims of the political process. Instead, the Legislature created a Minimum Wage Advisory Commission and required that the Commission report to the Legislature annually, starting in 2007, on the continuing adequacy of the state’s minimum wage. The Institute, in partnership with New Jersey Policy Perspective and the Brennan Center for Justice, submitted a report to the Commission during the public comment period. In December 2007 the Commission issued its first report, calling for an immediate increase in the minimum wage and indexing (the report was silent on the tipped workers issue). Several bills were introduced in January in accordance with these recommendations, but none received even a hearing.
The Institute recently updated its 2007 submission to reflect intervening economic developments and submitted it, in partnership with our Raise the Wage partners, in advance of the Commission’s 2008 report. We intend to continue our advocacy around these issues during the upcoming legislative session, in the first quarter of 2009.
Working with coalition partners and national advocacy groups, the Institute developed legislation addressing the subprime foreclosure crisis in New Jersey. Among other things, our legislative efforts resulted in the passage of provisions strengthening the ability of municipalities to identify and impose sanctions on lien holders of properties abandoned during the foreclosure process and posing threats to public health and safety.