FAMM Hails Historic NJ Vote to Roll Back Mandatory Minimum Sentences
"New Jersey is becoming smart on crime. The Senate's vote today follows the national trend away from one-size-fits-all sentencing laws and is the most recent demonstration that state lawmakers are increasingly disenchanted with the ineffectiveness and high cost of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent, drug-related offenses," said Deborah Fleischaker, FAMM's director of state legislative affairs.
Senate Bill 1866, sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City), is a companion bill to legislation passed by the Assembly in 2008. Both S-1866 and A-2762, sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) and Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen), would also allow the courts to waive or reduce parole ineligibility or place a defendant convicted of violating the drug-free school zone law on probation if they meet certain requirements.
At sentencing in cases involving school zone charges, courts could consider the extent of the defendant's prior criminal record and seriousness of the offenses; the location of the zone offense; and the reasonable likelihood of exposing children to drug-related activities at that location. Gov. Jon Corzine has promised that he will sign sentencing reform legislation if it makes it through the legislature.
New Jersey's shift away from mandatory minimum penalties is part of a national trend that is rapidly gaining momentum. Over a dozen cash-crunched states have enacted significant sentencing reforms in the last decade, with Rhode Island being the latest state to repeal all of its drug mandatory minimums. In New Jersey, it costs more than $46,000 a year to incarcerate each prisoner, and the state spends roughly $331 million a year just to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders.
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Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) is a national, nonpartisan nonprofit organization that advocates for fair and proportionate sentences. In 2006, FAMM launched a project in New Jersey to reform state mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug and drug-free zone violations. For information, visit www.famm.org or contact Monica Pratt Raffanel firstname.lastname@example.org.