NJ considers ditching minimum sentences for some crimes

New Jersey will work to overhaul its criminal sentencing guidelines, slashing mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug and some other crimes, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday.

The first-term Democrat unveiled recommendations from the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, a panel that goes back to 2009, but it didn’t operate under Murphy’s predecessor Republican Chris Christie.

Among the panel’s recommendations is eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders as well as nonviolent “property crimes,” like shoplifting.

The commission found that New Jersey has the highest racial disparity in incarceration rates of any state, with black people 12 times more likely to be jailed.

“Our current mandatory minimum laws for these nonviolent offenses reflect the harsh, inflexible and often misguided mindset of the 1980s so-called war on drugs. They haven’t served the interests of justice,” Murphy said alongside Cabinet members, lawmakers and the commission’s chairwoman, retired state Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz.

Murphy says the recommendations have bipartisan support.

Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin attended Thursday’s event and said they’ll work on legislation to enact the recommendations quickly.

Other proposals include:

  • Applying the elimination of some minimums retroactively to make it easier for inmates to be released.
  • Giving juvenile offenders sentenced as adults to long prison terms a chance to be resentenced or released.
  • Providing funding to the Department of Corrections for data infrastructure to track inmate trends.

In a report laying out its recommendations, the commission said that a “tough on crime” political climate surrounding the state’s 1979 enactment of its criminal code led to unprecedented growth in incarceration.


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