New Jersey Senate Approves Bill S-3456 Eliminating Mandatory Minimum Sentences for All Nonviolent Offenses
Bill S-3456 aimed at reducing the state’s overcrowded, nonviolent offender prison population.
Thanks in no small part to criminal justice reform-based legislation written by New Jersey State Senators Sandra Cunningham and Nick Scutari, the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for all nonviolent offenses was approved by the Senate by a vote of 23-14. Bill S-3456 follows recommendations by the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission and is considered as the commission’s blueprint for criminal justice reform and reducing the state’s overcrowded, nonviolent offender prison population. Although Bill S-3456 was aimed at mostly drug offenders and racial disparities in prisons, it also included amendments by its Judiciary Committee to include official misconduct (i.e., public corruption or criminal wrongdoing by elected officials and public employees).
Revisiting Anti-Crime Legislation in New Jersey from the War on Drugs
This new legislation is considered by many to be a means of addressing the decades-long over-penalizing marijuana offenses and damaging anti-crime laws put in place under the 1980’s and 90’s war on drugs; which are believed to have been intentionally created to target members of the African American and Latin communities. According to the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for criminal justice reform, Black New Jerseyans are incarcerated at a rate 10 times that of whites, the highest disparity in the nation.
Judicial Discretion in Sentencing: Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Bill author Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson highlighted that “sentencing reforms, in particular, are a crucial piece of the greater effort to bring more social justice to the legal system and to society.” Senator Cunningham has previously gone on record stating that “marijuana criminalization….a tool to propel mass incarceration has done immeasurable harm to Black and Brown communities around the country, and today we begin to right the ship here in New Jersey.”
Both senators stressed the importance of deferring to the judges handling the unique facts of each case. According to Senator Cunningham, “judicial discretion is needed to best determine the appropriate level of punishment. We have to return decision-making to the courts for matching an individual’s punishment to account for the nature and circumstances of the crime.” To which Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-Union, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, optimistically stated that as (we) “bring more fairness to the justice system we must move away from imposing lengthy sentences for minor offenses and tying the hands of judges.”
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