Institute Celebrates Civil Rights Hero Fred Gray as He Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today celebrated the momentous Presidential Medal of Freedom award granted to Mr. Fred Gray. 

At Mr. Gray's invitation, Institute President & CEO Ryan Haygood attended the ceremony. 

“If there’s anyone who deserves this prestigious honor, it’s Mr. Gray, who changed the course of civil rights history in America,” said Haygood. “We all rightly know the names of Dr. King, Rosa Parks and John Lewis. But often people behind the scenes alter the course of history, too. Today, America recognized one of those people.” 

In 1954, Fred Gray received his law degree and began his career in Alabama with one mission in mind: to destroy everything segregated.  

He became the legal engine of the civil rights movement, going on to represent Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks. He was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s first civil rights attorney, referred to by him as “the brilliant young Negro who later [be]came chief counsel for the protest movement."   

Black-led Organizations Urge Gov. Murphy to Conditionally Veto Legislation Rolling Back Bail Reform Legislation

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Fair Share Housing Center, NAACP New Jersey State Conference and Salvation and Social Justice today wrote to Gov. Murphy urging him to conditionally veto A2426, a bill that will make it easier to detain people accused of certain firearm offenses.  

A2426 weakens the Criminal Justice Reform Act – a historic bipartisan criminal justice reform law that eliminated bail for most offenses – and can provide a slippery slope to the increased detainment of people in New Jersey and exacerbate our already stark racial disparities.  

New Jersey law requires that a racial and ethnic impact statement is provided for criminal justice bills affecting pretrial detention before the legislature votes on them. As this didn’t happen, it is now up to the Governor to conditionally veto the bill since proper legal process was not followed. As it stands now, it is unknown to what degree this legislation will disproportionately impact communities of color. 

Institute and League of Women Voters of NJ Urge Gov. Murphy to Veto Voting Bills

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey today wrote to Gov. Murphy urging him to veto bill A3820/S2869 and conditionally veto bill A3823/S2867, both of which are on his desk awaiting action and which will, if signed, harm New Jersey’s democracy. 

Bill A3820/S2869 will change the law to no longer send unaffiliated vote-by-mail voters ballots during primary elections, but instead send these voters party affiliation forms. 

“This will create a two-tier system of rights for voters,” said the groups in the letter. “In-person unaffiliated voters will have until the primary election day to decide which party to join, but unaffiliated vote-by-mail voters will have to decide weeks in advance.”  

Bill A3823/S2867 requires counties to update voter rolls up to 10 days before the election to remove voters who are deceased. 

Democracy Advocates Urge Senate to Reject Bill Allowing Police at Schools on Election Days

NEWARK – In response to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historical Preservation Committee’s vote today to send S2912 – a bill allowing police to be present when voting is occurring at schools and senior centers – to the full Senate for a vote, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and a group of democracy advocates (listed below) issued the following statement.  

“Law enforcement and voting do not go together.  

“In election after election, people are intimidated by police at the polls, especially Black and Brown voters. This is the last thing we want to do given current threats to our democracy. 

New data reveals where people in New Jersey prisons come from

NEWARK – Today the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in New Jersey, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in New Jersey state prisons come from. The report also provides eight detailed data tables — including neighborhood-specific data for Newark and Jersey City — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics and others to analyze of how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being. 

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2020 law that requires that people in prison be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years. 

Institute Releases $600k to Damage Our Kids Forever

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released $600k to Damage Our Kids Forever: A Youth Incarceration Disaster, a report addressing the myriad costs that youth incarceration in New Jersey imposes on individual youth, their families and the state – financial, emotional and beyond. The report draws upon the stories of people impacted by youth incarceration, some who continue to feel the emotional scars decades later. 

In the upcoming fiscal year, New Jersey plans to spend $608,095 to incarcerate each youth in an antiquated, bloated and harmful system that incarcerates Black kids at 18 times the rate of white kids, even though they commit most offenses at similar rates. Over the past decade, New Jersey has invested over half a billion dollars in a broken youth incarceration system designed to lock up Black and Latina/o kids – enough money to provide free in-state tuition at Rutgers University for nearly 40,000 students or to increase New Jersey’s support for violence intervention programs thirty-fold. 

Democracy Advocates Applaud Court Decision to Allow Case Challenging “the Line” on NJ Ballots to Move Forward  


Amici Argued Party Line Subverts Democracy, the Right to Vote and Fair Representation 

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and Campaign Legal Center today, along with their clients the League of Women Voters of New Jersey and Salvation and Social Justice (“Amici”), applauded Tuesday’s court decision to allow the case of Conforti v Hanlon to move forward. 

Amici filed an amicus curiae brief in June 2021 seeking leave to appear as amici and opposing defendants’ motion to dismiss the Conforti lawsuit, which challenges New Jersey’s use of “the line” and other misleading features in its ballot design. The court granted Amicis' motion to appear in October 2021. A pdf of the amicus brief can be found here.   

New Jersey is the only state in the country that organizes its primary election ballots by bracketing together a county-supported group of candidates in a column or row (“the line”), rather than listing each office and the candidates for that office in separate sections from one another. These bracketing rules in addition to other ballot design defects not only mislead and confuse New Jersey voters, but also disproportionately harm voters and candidates of color. 

“The court’s decision is good news for our democracy, and our democracy can surely use good news right now,” said Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Through use of ‘the line,’ New Jersey is subverting democracy by maintaining an outmoded primary ballot design that misleads and confuses voters and interferes with their right to vote, disproportionately burdening Black and other voters of color and making it more difficult for candidates of color to win office. We look forward to resolution of the case in favor of plaintiffs – and democracy.”   

Advocates Respond to Low Voter Turnout in Newark Municipal Election

Newark – The following can be attributed to Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Deborah Smith Gregory, President of the Newark NAACP and Vivian Cox Fraser, President and CEO of the Urban League of Essex County, in response to Newark's low voter turnout in Tuesday's municipal election.

"Tuesday’s Municipal Election in Newark had a dismally low voter turnout. While disappointing, it was hardly surprising given the long history of low turnout in Newark.

Jersey City Passes Resolution Endorsing NJ Reparations Task Force Legislation

JERSEY CITY – On Wednesday night, the Jersey City Council passed a resolution endorsing state legislation (S386/A938) to establish a Reparations Task Force in New Jersey

Jersey City is the tenth location to pass such a resolution, following East Orange, South Orange, Maplewood, Plainfield, Montclair, Newark, Trenton, and Essex and Mercer Counties.  

"It is critical that the legislation to create a New Jersey Reparations Task Force move forward," said Jersey City Council President Joyce Watterman. "Black Americans have yet to receive reparations for state sanctioned slavery. It is time that America, and New Jersey, look into the mirror and correct that wrong, and take actions to live up to our ideal as a society truly based on the premise that all of us are created equal. I am proud that our Council is endorsing the state legislation to establish a Reparations Task Force.” 

Social Justice Organizations Issue Dissent to Report from Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey

NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, Latino Action Network and Salvation and Social Justice (the “Social Justice Task Force Members”) today issued a dissent to a report issued by the Task Force for the Continued Transformation of Youth Justice in New Jersey (the “Youth Justice Task Force”) that calls for the construction of three new youth prisons in New Jersey.

The Social Justice Task Force Members are part of the larger Youth Justice Task Force created by an executive order signed by Governor Murphy on October 26, 2018. The task force report comes over four years after former Governor Christie’s January 8, 2018 announcement that Jamesburg and Hayes youth prisons were to be shut down. Those two prisons, in addition to JMSF, remain open today. (The Youth Justice Task Force report contains a previously filed objection raised by the Social Justice Task Members.)