By some measures, New Jersey has led the nation in criminal justice reform in recent years. Many states have experienced a modest decline since reaching their peak prison populations, but New Jersey state reduced its prison population by 31% between 1999 and 2014, with no adverse effect on public safety. In addition, state leadership has championed reform measures including expanding drug courts and overhauling the bail system.
However, racial disparities in New Jersey prisons are the highest in the nation, the Star-Ledger points out in an editorial:
Despite all this progress, however, a new report from The Sentencing Project, a Washington D.C. think-tank, spotlights a troubling problem. Yes, New Jersey’s prison population has shrunk. And yes, our black incarceration rate is below the national average. But our state still incarcerates blacks at a far higher rate than whites.
While there are many causes of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, one key source is policies and practices that seem race-neutral, but disproportionately impact people of color. In New Jersey, a state Senate bill voted out of committee last week would help prevent these disparities by requiring a racial and ethnic impact statement to be drawn up for any proposal that affects sentencing.
The Star-Ledger editorial board concludes: “[O]ur state should be collecting more solid data to address this racial disparity – and ensure we aren’t making it worse.”
Read the full editorial on the Star-Ledger.
How Many People Are Spending Over a Decade in Prison?
In 2019, over half of the people in U.S. prisons – amounting to more than 770,000 people – were serving sentences of 10 years or longer – a huge jump from 2000.