Growing Wave of Support for New Jersey Mandatory Minimum Reform Legislation

Press Release November 24, 2009
Media Contact

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

On Tuesday, November 24th, the City Council of Jersey City passed a resolution supporting Senate Bill 1866, which would give judges the discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses. The Municipal Council of Newark passed the same resolution on October 7th and Camden City Council followed suit on October 27th.

This groundswell of support comes as the legislation is making its way through the state legislature. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed S1866 on Monday, November 23rd and sent the bill to the full senate where it awaits a vote. The Assembly passed the companion legislation, A2762, last year, and Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill when it gets to his desk.

Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, said the groundswell of support for mandatory minimum reform is understandable. “Twenty years ago, New Jersey began implementing harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. These laws have been a spectacular failure. They have done nothing to decrease drug activity and have filled New Jersey’s prisons with nonviolent drug offenders at great cost to New Jersey taxpayers,” said Scotti. “At a time when our state and our cities are struggling with severe budget deficits, there is a growing consensus that we can’t afford these ineffective and economically disastrous policies any longer.”

It costs New Jersey taxpayers more than $46,000 a year to incarcerate an individual and New Jersey spends about $331 million a year just to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders. Allowing judges some discretion would guarantee that justice is done and that taxpayer dollars are not wasted. At a time when New Jersey is facing serious budget deficits and cutting spending on education, health and other critical programs, advocates say New Jersey needs to take a hard look at policies that have mandated the warehousing of large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders at enormous cost to taxpayers.

S1866/A2762 is supported by a broad coalition of organizations including Volunteers of America 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. Recently, both the Newark and Camden City Councils passed resolutions supporting S1866.

When New Jersey adopted the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act in 1986, the state ushered in a radical era of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. This led to unprecedented levels of incarceration and massive taxpayer expenditures. These unfair and ineffective laws have also had an egregiously disproportionate impact on communities of color.



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