TRENTON – New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus Chair Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) joined with fellow legislators from the New Jersey Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses and prominent state civil rights organizers and faith leaders to demonstrate their solidarity in a unified call to action for passage of legislation to end social injustice in New Jersey.
Participants at the State House press conference demanded justice for residents harmed by failed policies and a biased and unfair criminal justice system, and the immediate prioritizing of a package of bills for Marijuana Decriminalization (A-5325), Expungement (S-3205/A-4498), Youth Transformation (S-3701/A-5365) and Juvenile Incarceration and Parole Reform (S-48).
As Chair of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, Rice announced his pride to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with “this distinguished coalition dedicated to social justice and equality under New Jersey’s court system. Regardless of their previous stance on the now defunct marijuana legalization bill, black and Latino leaders are united in their unwavering support for decriminalization as a long-sought remedy for rampant injustice in our state,” said the Newark-based senator. “Now that the vote for legalization of recreational marijuana is in the hands of voters, we can’t wait another day for the decriminalization and expungement measures that will free those unfairly targeted for arrest and incarceration. I call on our governor and legislative leaders to push this legislation through and make good on their claim that legalization was always about social justice. If social justice was truly their focus, now is the time to act.”
“New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the nation and yet, unfortunately, we are also one of the worst in terms of racial disparities. Our criminal justice system is broken,” said Latino Caucus Chair Senator Nellie Pou (D-35). “For decades our incarcerated population has increased, disproportionately with people of color, but today we are addressing the system head on. I am encouraged to see our legislators and advocates standing together, presenting corrective action and reform, finally, for our criminal justice system.”
“We stand united calling for the justice measures we were assured before legalization was pushed to the 2020 ballot. We are encouraged by Speaker Coughlin’s commitment to our concerns by immediately moving decriminalization forward in the Assembly,” said Reverend Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Executive Director of Salvation and Social Justice. “We look forward to the Governor and the Senate President advancing decriminalization as well. All of these issues are inextricably linked,” he continued. “Criminalization and mass incarceration have devastated our communities. We want to see a sense of urgency from all political leadership to move all of these issues.”
As a primary co-sponsor of both the decriminalization bill A-5325 and the expungement bill A-4498, Assemblywoman Angela V. McKnight (D-31) sees the legislation as “an avenue for residents, especially in our black and brown communities, to clear their name and their record, moving New Jersey closer to equity and justice in the expungement process. For there to be equity and justice in legalization, there must be legislation providing residents affected under the old laws to remove those convictions from their records and begin anew,” the Hudson Assemblywoman added. “I thank Speaker Coughlin and my co-prime sponsors for their leadership and willingness to work together to right the wrongs of the past and I look forward to continuing to fight for what is best for our communities.”
“We have a unique opportunity in New Jersey to really make a positive change in the lives of many people,” said Senator Sandra B. Cunningham (D-31). “This is the best expungement bill that has ever been written and it will do more to help people make a change in their lives than anything witnessed before. This legislation will put New Jersey on the map.”
“While we wait for criminal justice reform on the national level, we must do everything in our power to correct the injustices here in our state. We took a meaningful first step this month in sending the expungement legislation to the Governor and I look forward to seeing him take action on the bill,” said Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29). “There is more work that needs to be done, but this legislation is a significant step in the right direction.”
“The New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act (A5365/S3701) is long overdue in New Jersey. We must afford our children every opportunity to flourish by investing in their success, as opposed to continuing down a path that increases recidivism and incarceration rates,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda E. Sumter (D-35). “This legislation sets forth a comprehensive, practical, and visionary plan that will build and empower our young people through prevention, community-based programming, diversion, and rehabilitation. I am grateful to advocates for continuing to support legislative efforts which place our children and the communities we serve at the forefront.”
“The time is now for comprehensive criminal justice reform in New Jersey,” said Andrea McChristian, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Initiative at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “On the youth justice front, our state has the worst Black to white youth incarceration disparity rate in the nation, spends almost $300,000 each year to incarcerate each young person in a state youth prison, and prioritizes funding our failed youth incarceration system over financing meaningful rehabilitative youth programs. For these reasons, we must pass the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act which will create a closure timeline for all three of our state’s youth prisons and create a $100 million lockbox fund for community-based programs.”
“We cannot continue to ignore the harsh realities of social injustice and what they do to our communities,” said Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez (D-5). “It’s time that we make the system fairer to minority youth and encourage rehabilitation of all youthful offenders so that they can become law-abiding, productive members of society.”
Today’s press conference encouraged a renewed commitment to racial and social justice through decriminalization and expungement legislation to immediately free those unfairly targeted for arrest, incarceration and criminal records. It highlighted New Jersey’s record for the worst adult and youth incarceration racial disparities in the nation – mostly due to disproportionally enforced drug policies and anemic investments in community-based youth alternatives – and called for progressive policies to provide children with programs upon which to build strong life foundations for success.