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State Sen. Ronald Rice. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe

Rice, Speight introduce bill expanding Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission

Measure adds four seats, with two filled by Legislative Black and Latino Caucus chairs

By Nikita Biryukov, January 08 2021 12:49 pm

The chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and one of its members announced a bill expanding the scope and size of the state’s Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission to include racial bias in New Jersey’s criminal justice system Friday.

“After the pivotal events of racial injustice we’ve seen last year, it is evident that we cannot continue to find ourselves at the crossroads of equality and justice and not take action,” LBC Chairman and State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark) said. “With Black and Brown citizens disproportionately imprisoned, unemployed, economically disadvantaged, and losing their lives to police shootings, we must figure out how to put an end to systematic inequality in this country starting right here in New Jersey’s own communities.”

The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shanique Speight in the Assembly, would add four new seats to the commission, increasing its membership from 13 to 17.

Rice, as LBC chair, and State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson), who chairs the Legislative Latino Caucus, would each get to fill a seat. The other two would be for public members.

The bill would allow the commission to examine disparities related to policing, criminal defense legal representation, plea agreements and the jury selection process.

“Expanding membership and the scope of the existing Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission will be integral to getting the answers we need, and ensuring fair and just policing throughout New Jersey for all communities,” Speight said. “It begins with ensuring diverse representation on a critical state commission which discusses important matters surrounding law enforcement and our criminal justice system.”

Friday’s announcement follows Gov. Phil Murphy’s mid-December veto of a bill that would have created a separate 17-member panel to examine the same issues.

Murphy struck down that bill after coming to an agreement with rice on the commission’s expansion.

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