Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243
Trenton- Assembly Bill 2762, which would give judges discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses, will be given a final vote by the full Assembly on Thursday, Jan 7th. The bill originally passed the Assembly by a vote of 49-27 in June of 2008. It passed the New Jersey State Senate by a vote of 24-11 on December 10th of this year. Now the bill returns to the Assembly for a final concurrence vote. Supporters of the bill called the passage a triumph for common sense and fiscal responsibility. Governor Corzine has said he will sign the bill if it gets to his desk.
The prime sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly, Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, stated has worked tirelessly to move the bill forward in order to address the egregious unfairness and racial disparities produced by the current law. “Our current Drug-Free School Zone law does not work,” said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). “The mandatory minimum sentencing laws have effectively created two different sentences for the same crime, depending on where an individual lives. This is geographic discrimination at its most basic, and it is something to which I am adamantly opposed.”
S1866/A2762 generated a groundswell of support leading up to the Senate vote. A letter, signed by eight former New Jersey Attorneys General, in support of S1866, was released in early December and the city councils of Camden, Jersey City and Newark all passed resolutions in support of the bill. A poll conducted by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling in 2005 found that 73 percent of New Jerseyans support giving judges discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, applauded the legislation. “New Jerseyans understand that our criminal sentencing policies have failed,” she said. “New Jersey is warehousing large numbers of individuals for whom community supervision or drug treatment would be more effective and less costly. This bill signals a new and better direction for New Jersey.”
A2762/S1866 is supported by a broad coalition of groups including the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, Volunteers of American Delaware Valley, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Community Education Centers Alumni Association, Macedonia AME Church Camden, 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, People’s Organization for Progress, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Fathers and Men United for a Better Trenton, David Kerr/Integrity House, Healthfirst NJ, Hispanic Directors Association and Latino Leadership Alliance.
It costs New Jersey taxpayers more than $46,000 a year to incarcerate an individual and the state spends about $331 million a year just to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders. The overall Corrections budget is now $1.3 billion annually.