Sunday, July 6, 2014

Press Release: NJ Sen. Ron Rice Urged to Introduce "NJ Decarceration Act"

Committee to Decarcerate the Garden State

Contact:               Cassandra Dock 973-223-2114


Newark residents with others from around the state have been busy organizing and preparing to launch a major push for “large scale” prison release in NJ.  They have sent a letter to NJ Senator Ron Rice, who represented Essex County, urging him to introduce a bill they are calling “The NJ Decarceration Act.”

Touting the oft repeated statistics as to how the US has 6% of the world’s population yet holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, organizers of the decarceration drive say that it is time to move beyond talking about the problem to actually taking strong action to solve it.  Seeing racism as a major explanation of the disproportionate representation of Blacks among the prison population, they see the only way to address what they call “systemic racism” in the enforcement, prosecution and sentencing of the criminal justice system is to provide large scale release of those incarcerated, particularly for non violent drug related and other non-violent small scale economic “crimes of survival.”

The letter is signed by 14 NJ residents, most of them residents of Essex.  Signers urge the Senator to introduce the bill stating:

“Those political leaders that step to the forefront on this issue and lead the way in the legislative struggle to bring about real and sweeping decarceration will be tomorrow’s heroes.  We need strong fighters to take up this mantle and wage this struggle – who know the law, who know how to negotiate and maneuver and know how to win. . . .   We know in our heart that you recognize the importance of this issue and believe that you have the fight within you to figure out how to make this happen. “

Letter signers reference Senator Rice’s constituency’s racial and class mix in urging him to action:

“We are sure you are well aware of the racial and economic disparities of mass incarceration where it is Black, Brown and impoverished who are targeted by everything from arrest, prosecution and sentencing.  Mass incarceration devastates our family structures, our community structures and our ability to engage and struggle politically, socially and economically for better communities.  For these reasons it is of utmost importance that our communities take the lead in structuring the kind of decarceration legislation that is initiated and fought for.  We need to take the first step.”

The letter is backed by an on-line petition being circulated throughout NJ that has close to 1000 signers so far.  The petition addressed to NJ State Senate and Assembly calls for “the passage of a NJ Decarceration Act to deliver large scale reductions in NJ’s state adult and youth prison populations.”

The  petition specifically lays out proposed courses of action for such a bill:

“We call for incarceration reductions of 20% in the first 2 years and 50% over 4 years.  The legislation should provide for guidelines of offenses for which prisoners should be released (e.g. nonviolent simple possession charges and small scale economic offenses), guidelines for release of those given particular lengths of sentences who served a percentage of their sentence (e.g. release all those sentenced under 6 months, who have served 50% of a term up to 1 year, have served 70% of 1 – 3 years, 80% of 3 – 5 years, etc) as well as those who are beyond a certain age who served a certain percentage of their sentences.

"The particulars can be determined with input from communities targeted by mass incarceration.
Funds saved must be channeled into providing jobs, training and services for those exiting the prison system.”

Letter signers tell Senator Rice that they are planning a street panel discussion on the topic later this summer in Newark and invite him to be part of it should he agree to take the proposed action.  The street panel discussion is scheduled for July 30, 5:30 pm outside Newark City Hall.

According to one of the organizers of this committee Cassandra Dock, "We are confident in our outreach to Senator Rice that he will realize that if there is ever a Black Agenda issue, an issue that affects the impoverished throughout Essex County, this unjust 'justice' system is it!"

Ms. Dock states that she will be reaching out to Senator Rice by phone to set up a meeting with him.

The letter to Senator Rice can be read in full at this link:

The petition can be read and signed at this link:

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