Monday, March 30, 2015

Bridgeton Mayor Calls for Outside the Box Thinking on Jailing – We Agree

“Decarcerating Bridgeton / Southwoods” is the title of a panel discussion scheduled to occur Saturday, April 4, 3:30pm at the Church of the Resurrection (St. Andrew's Episcopal), 186 E Commerce Street , Bridgeton, NJ.  The event is sponsored by our organization Decarcerate the Garden State.  For more information- see press release at the following link:
Just days before our panel event, coincidentally, Albert B. Kelly the Mayor of Bridgeton has published an excellent opinion piece in the NJ dot com news services:

Mayor Kelly is calling for outside the box thinking to resolve the issue of too many lives turning sour after a bout with jail.  This makes perfect sense and is part of what our organization will be addressing at this Saturday’s event.

We welcome Mayor Kelly’s words and encourage other local officials to also take a closer look at this issue.  We also encourage Mayor Kelly to move beyond the box in how the City of Bridgeton is policed and what crimes are prosecuted and how they are prosecuted right there in Bridgeton.  Mayors have executive powers – they have influence on how police departments are run and by whom.  They have the authority  - especially if partnered with council and the community to decide what type of policing occurs.

Similarly there are prosecutors in NJ calling for changes to NJ’s drug laws yet they continue to prosecute per those laws.  They have power to change their prosecutorial style to affect immediate change while continuing to join with the rest of us in the fight to change the laws.

From our planning meetings with Bridgeton residents, we have learned that some of this outside of the box thinking can indeed be applied to Bridgeton.  The police arrest reports tell you that as well.  How many small time drug arrests are being made?  How many police hours are spent filling out reports, testifying, gathering evidence to prosecute these very low level offenses right there in Bridgeton?  How much paid time does the local prosecutor and the local judge spend and how much paid time do local police spend testifying to have people put in jail for the very low level infractions.

Indeed, the mayor and council can call upon the prosecutor to pull the docket list right now – to select cases that fall in the category as described in the Mayor’s op-ed and to dismiss those charges. That would be some *awesome out of the box thinking*. 

The mayor and council can sit down with the police brass and lay out a new strategy for policing the city.  Indeed Bridgeton can use some toning down given the aftermath of the police killing of Jerame Reid as he attempted to emerge from a vehicle holding his empty hands out of the window on December 30, 2014.  

How about an amnesty for low level offenses?  How about a moratorium – on marijuana law enforcement?  How about an ordinance decriminalizing marijuana in Bridgeton (like nearby Philadelphia)?

We also suggest that Bridgeton can introduce a resolution to back our efforts to pass a NJ Decarceration Act.

We applaud Mayor Kelly’s insightful piece today – it definitely sets the tone for our event this Saturday.

We invite Mayor Kelly and other local leaders to attend our event – to listen to the panelists and to continue to provide leadership on solutions to the issues of mass incarceration.  

The communities that are targeted by mass incarceration, over enforcement of nuisance laws, profiling, street harassment of impoverished residents are looking for bold leadership – people who are willing to fight to pass laws that lead to large scale reduction in incarceration levels and wholesale change to how laws are enforced, people who are willing to use the power they already possess to affect immediate change.  That type of leadership will go far on the shoulders of the communities super oppressed by mass incarceration.

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