A major criminal justice reform package passed the New Jersey Senate on Aug. 27. The reform package would alter criminal sentencing norms and remove mandatory minimum sentences.
The legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Senator Nellie Pou (D-Bergen, Passaic) is based on recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission.
Meaningful sentencing reform is long overdue, according to Senator Cunningham.
“If we are ever going to reverse the harmful effects of mass incarceration, we must move away from doling out lengthy sentences for minor offenses, and this legislation is the first step toward realizing that goal,” Cunningham said. “By removing mandatory minimums on nonviolent offenses we can return the discretionary power back to our judges and allow them to issue sentences based on what is truly in the best interests of the individual and our society.”
“As we address the historically biased criminal sentencing practices, we have to consider those who are currently serving severe, decades-long sentences that were saddled on them as juveniles,” said Pou. “We cannot right every wrong, but when we build a better future and restructure policies for criminal sentencing moving forward, we cannot forget those still living with the sentencing policies of the past. The sentencing reforms that we have passed are a small but crucial piece of the greater effort to build a safer, fairer and more just New Jersey.”
The Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission was created in 2009 by the New Jersey Legislature to conduct a thorough review of the state’s criminal sentencing provisions and consider recommendations to reform the laws governing the criminal justice system. Senator Cunningham and Senator Pou were both members of the commission, which was chaired by former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz.
Criminal justice reforms
The criminal justice reform package consists of four bills sponsored by Cunningham and Pou.
The first bill would implement sentencing recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission to eliminate mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses and nonviolent property crimes. It would also reduce mandatory minimum sentences for second-degree robbery and burglary.
Another bill would provide the court with discretion to consider the age of a youthful defendant as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
The third bill would establish a compassionate release program for inmates suffering from a grave medical condition, terminal illness, or permanent physical incapacity.
The final bill would require a study be conducted to determine the cost savings of the compassionate release program and the elimination of mandatory minimums. Under the bill, any cost savings would go toward the “Corrections Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention Fund,” which would support recidivism reduction programs.
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