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New Jersey State Bar Association President Kimberly Yonta. (Photo: Facebook.)

NJ State Bar backs elimination of some mandatory prison sentences

Yonta says current law has ‘disproportionate impact on communities of color’

By David Wildstein, December 13 2020 3:53 pm

The New Jersey State Bar Association is supporting legislation that would eliminate some mandatory minimum prison sentences, saying that want to remove systemic bias and racism as a way of addressing discriminations in state sentencing laws.

“Mandatory minimum sentencing scheme have a disproportionate impact on communities of color and have resulted in New Jersey having the highest disparity in the nation between incarceration of people of color and white people,” said Kimberly Yonta, the Bar Association president.

The bills, S-2586 and A-4369, would implement recommendations made in a report by the Criminal Sentencing Disposition Commission.

Yonta called the report “a wake-up call to many, and a needed response to the constant refrain from advocates for criminal justice reform to fix the worst disparity in the rates of incarceration between Black and white offenders in the entire country.”

Statistics in the report cited by Yonta suggest that the rate of incarceration for Black people is twelve times the rate for Whites, and that the rate for Hispanics is double what it is for White people.

“Over 76 percent of the prison population are people of color, compared with the overall population of people of color at 44 percent,” said Yonta.  “The time is now to remove mandatory minimums to give judges discretion and a greater range of alternatives to impose sentences that fit the crimes.”

The legislature has been tinkering with mandatory minimum laws for a while.

“I sponsored the most significant elimination of mandatory minimums – for drug offenses in school zones. Sent minorities in urban areas to prison for minor offenses,” said former State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth.  “Signed by Governor Corzine. Significantly reduced the prison population. Had nothing to do with selling drugs to minors which still has a mandatory minimum  sentence.”

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