Saturday, June 25, 2016

NJ Racial Disparities in Incarceration – Let’s Fully Analyze (and Act Upon) NJ’s Data

Sample Tweet:
12:1 incarceration disparity for Black NJ residents – What should be done? #DecarcerateNJ

The most recent drop of the Sentencing Project analysis    in racial disparities in incarceration, 
comparing the states based upon the rate racially of white versus Black catching a prison sentence has revealed that NJ has the worse racial disparity in the entire nation – a Black person in NJ is 12 times as likely a white to end up in prison.  Comically (almost) when the media first reported on this information they described the disparity incorrectly – the headlines first said that for every white in NJ’s statefacilities there are 12 Blacks.  That was incorrect.

While NJ’s over all rates of incarceration for both white and Black are better than much of the nation, the racial differences are *the very worse* in the nation.  These revelations underscore the need for the work of Decarcerate the Garden State and provide an exclamation point for the importance of the September 9th organizing we are focused upon.

One response spearheaded by Rev. Charles Boyer in NJ is to support the passage of legislation calling for racial impact statements with any new legislation in NJ that affects criminal justice issues. 

This is an important effort.  It will be voted upon in the full Senate this Monday, June 27.  Decarcerate the Garden State has contacted its legislators via e-mail and twitter supporting a YES vote and we urge our membership to do the same.  Here is the latest PSA (on behalf of Rev. Boyer) from our blog site urging everyone to also contact their legislator.  Please follow suit and get your letters, calls, tweets in to your representatives immediately.

We should not stop there however.  The racial disparity is a severe issue and we need to further analyze the reasons for it and to *dig deeper into the data* to determine who are the actors and what are the methods being utilized to deliver these horrendous discrepancies.

NJ should do a study and if the state is unwilling to fund such a study, media outlets and researchers, on campuses and in organizations should take it up.  To put it bluntly – we need to develop racial scorecards for NJ judges, NJ prosecutors, NJ municipal and county courts, police forces and individual police.  We need to analyze the data and break it down.  Racial disparities should be explained – controlling for factors.  Things that need to be determined include:

Who is arrested for what offenses compared to the propensity of each group to commit such offenses.
What are the number of charges applied for a single incident or offense?  Are charges being wobbled and then leveraged to force pleas and longer sentences?
What are the conviction rates for similar crimes?
What are the sentences meted out for similar convictions.?
What are arrest records vs. crime incidence vs. community demographics of individual police, of precints, of officers under police captains, etc?
For prosecutors, analysis of racial factors in their leniency or harshness, in their selection of which cases to prosecute, racial disparities in their conviction rates, in plea bargaining and other aspects of their prosecution.
There are probably many other aspects of NJ meting out of “criminal justice” that need to be placed under the microscope. 

We also should start calling attention to these issues by picketing courthouses that have particularly egregious records – or calling press conferences outside while court is in session.  On the one hand the press conferences and pickets can correspond with particular cases that bear further examination to determine if race is a factor but on the other hand – that might not be necessary because it is clear that race is always a factor in NJ from the patrol, to the arrest, to the charging, to the treatment in jail, to the bail, to the scheduling of the trial, to the prosecution, to the conviction rates, to the sentencing, and then to the treatment in prison and to the eligibility and approval for parole (and many other aspects).

It is imperative.  To let this study be just one more set of statistics that we complain about without acting upon the results just guarantees that the bleak quality of life will continue for much of NJ’s residency, particularly the Black residency – but all of us as well since racially concentrated mass incarceration destroys community potential.

Once we more fully understand NJ’s racial dynamic in criminal justice we can determine the solutions:
1.       First and foremost provide immediate relief through amnesty and sentence commutation to time served for all of those found to have been victimized by racial factors in any aspect of their encounter with NJ’s discriminating criminal justice system.
2.       Address the related social dynamics that contribute to behavior resulting in arrest.
3.       Identify and weed out police, prosecutors, judges and attorneys general that show bias in their administration of justice.
4.       Put in place monitoring and training to prevent continuation of such racial application of law enforcement and criminal justice in NJ.
Meanwhile we should address these issues in our organizing around September 9 and we should start a full court press with picketing, leaflet distribution and press conferences outside courthouses where these racial factors are being applied.

These issues are complex so care must be taken but for the report to flow downstream with only lip service from politicians and inaction from the community will allow this problem only to grow worse.

Sept. 9 Current Status:

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