Lawmakers at the state and federal level have revisited mandatory minimum sentencing in recent years, often focusing on those that apply to non-violent crimes. Now lawmakers introduced six more bills that seek to implement the recommendations made by a bipartisan Criminal Sentence and Disposition Commission chaired by former New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz.
Commissioned by Governor Phil Murphy in 2019, the commission’s goal is to reduce the racial disparity in the prisons, prevent recidivism and ultimately lower the population and expense of operating the state’s penal system.
“Meaningful sentencing reform is long overdue,” said Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, who was on the commission. “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 towards realizing that goal. By removing mandatory minimums on non-violent 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 interest of the individual and our society.”
Cunningham is sponsoring several bills. These include:
- S-2586 addresses mandatory minimum sentences for second-degree burglary and robbery.
- S-2593 would authorize the Administrative Office of the courts to retroactively rescind mandatory minimums of those currently in prison for non-violent drug or property crimes.
- S-2594 would institute a compassionate release program for seriously ill inmates, suffered permanent physical injury, or other grave medical conditions.
- S-2595 calls for a study to determine the savings in eliminating mandatory minimums and redirect those funds into a corrections rehabilitation and crime prevention fund.
There are also two sentencing bills sponsored by state Senator Nellie Pou, D-Passaic. These are:
- S-2592 would give the courts leeway to consider the age of an offender when sentencing.
- S-2591 seeks to resentence minors tried as adults who have served at least 20 years of their sentence of 30 or more years and have not already been resentenced.
A step in the right direction
These criminal reform bills resonate with the times as lawmakers attempt to reform the criminal justice system, police oversight and the cultural expense of keeping so many locked up. These bills have a chance to institute real change for the better here in New Jersey.