NJ Senate Judiciary Committee to Vote Monday on Groundbreaking Sentencing Bill that Would Give Judges the Discretion to Waive Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Some Nonviolent Drug Offenses

Press Release November 17, 2009
Media Contact

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

On Monday, November 23, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider Senate Bill 1866, which would give judges the discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses. 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. This critically important legislation would be a groundbreaking first step in reforming New Jersey’s draconian sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses.

Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, applauded the committee’s willingness to consider the bill and urged passage.

“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.

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 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. 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.

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

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