The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Roseanne Scotti 609-610-8243

New Jersey State Assembly to take Final Vote on Bill that Would Reform Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Some Nonviolent Drug Offenses

Advocates Call Vote a Triumph for Common Sense and Fiscal Responsibility


Assembly Bill 2762, which would give judges discretion to waive
mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses, will be
given a final vote by the full Assembly on Thursday, Jan 7th. The
bill originally passed the Assembly by a vote of 49-27 in June of
2008. It passed the New Jersey State Senate by a vote of 24-11 on
December 10th of this year. Now the bill returns to the Assembly for a
final concurrence vote. Supporters of the bill called the passage a
triumph for common sense and fiscal responsibility. Governor Corzine
has said he will sign the bill if it gets to his desk.

The prime sponsor of the legislation in the Assembly, Majority
Leader Bonnie Watson Coleman, stated has worked tirelessly to move the
bill forward in order to address the egregious unfairness and racial
disparities produced by the current law. "Our current Drug-Free School
Zone law does not work," said Watson Coleman (D-Mercer). "The
mandatory minimum sentencing laws have effectively created two
different sentences for the same crime, depending on where an
individual lives. This is geographic discrimination at its most basic,
and it is something to which I am adamantly opposed."

S1866/A2762 generated a groundswell of support leading up to the
Senate vote. A letter, signed by eight former New Jersey Attorneys
General, in support of S1866, was released in early December and the
city councils of Camden, Jersey City and Newark all passed resolutions
in support of the bill. A poll conducted by the Eagleton Center for
Public Interest Polling in 2005 found that 73 percent of New Jerseyans
support giving judges discretion to waive mandatory minimum sentences
for nonviolent drug offenses.

Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey,
applauded the legislation. "New Jerseyans understand that our criminal
sentencing policies have failed," she said. "New Jersey is warehousing
large numbers of individuals for whom community supervision or drug
treatment would be more effective and less costly. This bill signals a
new and better direction for New Jersey."

A2762/S1866 is supported by a broad coalition of groups including
the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, Volunteers of American Delaware
Valley, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Community
Education Centers Alumni Association, Macedonia AME Church Camden,
Corporation for Supportive Housing, New Jersey Association on
Correction, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Coalition of
Community Corrections Providers of New Jersey, Women Who Never Give Up,
People's Organization for Progress, Families Against Mandatory
Minimums, Fathers and Men United for a Better Trenton, David
Kerr/Integrity House, Healthfirst NJ, Hispanic Directors Association
and Latino Leadership Alliance.

It costs New Jersey taxpayers more than $46,000 a year to
incarcerate an individual and the state spends about $331 million a
year just to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders. The overall
Corrections budget is now $1.3 billion annually.

The Drug Policy Alliance is the nation's leading organization promoting drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.

(212) 613-8020