Eight Former New Jersey Attorneys General Endorse Bill that Would Reform Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Some Nonviolent Drug Offenses

Press Release December 7, 2009
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243

Trenton — A letter in support of Senate Bill 1866, signed by eight former New Jersey Attorneys General, was released today. Senate Bill 1866 would give judges discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses. The signatories were: John J. Degnan, Robert Del Tufo, W. Cary Edwards, Zulima Farber, John Farmer, Peter C. Harvey, Deborah T. Poritz and James Zazzali.

The letter is the latest in a groundswell of support for Senate Bill 1866. The City Councils of Camden, Jersey City and Newark all passed resolutions in support of the bill in the last two months, and a growing chorus of advocates is urging quick passage of the bill. The Assembly companion bill, A2762 was passed last year and S1866 was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 23rd. The legislation will be voted on by the full Senate on Thursday.

Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey, one of the letter signatories, stated, “Our state’s penal statutes are overrun with mandatory minimum sentences. These sentences do not necessarily make us any safer. Given the rigorous selection process for judges, we need to trust our judiciary to design an appropriate sentence for the individual standing before the court rather than placing that individual into a predetermined sentencing grid that does not take into account the particular qualities and specific behavior of that person.”

The prime sponsor of the legislation, Senator Raymond J. Lesniak (D-Union), said the bill was a win-win situation for public safety and fiscal responsibility. “Senate Bill 1866 saves tax dollars, saves lives and provides better protection to the public. It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.

Advocates for the legislation said the letter demonstrated the broad support for reform. “We have growing support from across the political spectrum on this issue,” said Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey. “Community organizations, criminal justice professionals and law enforcement are increasingly coming to consensus that mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses are a failed policy that has wasted lives and taxpayer money.”

Robert Del Tufo, who served as Attorney General from 1990-1994, said, “Mandatory minimum sentences can deny one justice by preventing a judge from imposing a lesser sentence when warranted, and can result in the public having to bear unnecessary and significant costs of incarceration.”

S1866/A2762 is supported by a broad coalition of organizations, including Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, Volunteers of American Delaware Valley, Corporation for Supportive Housing, New Jersey Association on Correction, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Coalition of Community Corrections Providers of New Jersey, Women Who Never Give Up, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Hispanic Directors Association and Latino Leadership Alliance.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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