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Crossroads NJ Report Calls for Ending Mandatory Sentencing, Other Criminal Justice Reforms

November 3, 2017
For immediate release

Mass Incarceration is Expensive and Doesn’t Make New Jersey Safer

PRINCETON (Nov. 3, 2017) — Ending mandatory minimum sentences, legalizing marijuana, and restoring offenders’ voting rights are among major reforms needed to a criminal justice system that locks up people at a rate beyond what public safety requires, and with greater racial disparities than any other state, a new report from The Fund for New Jersey says.

The report, “Reforming Criminal Justice: Reducing Mass Incarceration Would Benefit New Jersey’s Communities,” is the last in the seven-part Crossroads NJ series aimed at informing public debate in this pivotal election year. It was produced by The Fund for New Jersey, which since 1970 has focused its philanthropy on improving the quality of life in the Garden State by supporting good policy decision-making.

The full text of the reports, as they are released, and other information about Crossroads NJ is available at

African American adults in New Jersey are incarcerated at a rate more than 12 times that of white people and African American youth are 30.6 times more likely to be committed to a juvenile facility than are white youth. New Jersey imprisons people at a higher rate than all but six nations. “The premise should be that incarceration is the last resort, not the first response,” the report says. “The money we spend to confine so many New Jerseyans could be used for public investment in other important areas that support human and economic growth, such as education, housing, and health.”

Crime rates are down in New Jersey, the report says, because of an aging population, increased graduation rates and employment, decreased alcohol consumption, and policing methods based on data used to identify crime patterns and target resources. “The rate of incarceration has a minimal impact on the commission of property crimes and essentially no impact on the commission of violent crimes,” the report says. “Mass incarceration does not make anyone safer and, at the same time, costs the state billions of dollars, disrupts families, and sharply diminishes the economic prospects of communities.”

Key recommendations include:


  • Legalize marijuana
  • Recognize that social services are a more appropriate intervention for some behavioral offenses
  • Limit local law enforcement’s interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement so immigrants involved in minor offenses do not face deportation
  • Collect reliable, consistent data to enable systematic analysis of arrests


  • Resist efforts to expand categories of cases where courts presume detention
  • Do not reintroduce money bail as the primary mechanism for pretrial release
  • Calibrate risk assessment to rectify racial disparities in pretrial detention
  • Update New Jersey’s speedy-trial framework so that no defendant waits in jail for two years or more to have his or her case heard


  • Eliminate mandatory minimum sentences
  • Reduce the base term of criminal sentences for which early release is prohibited
  • Appoint members to the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission so it can fulfill its statutory duty to examine New Jersey’s sentencing scheme
  • Create a comprehensive system for reporting detailed information on sentencing and the resulting financial costs
  • Reconsider classification of certain crimes to eliminate immigration consequences


  • Expand programs that enable prisoners to earn credit toward release
  • Make data on parole decisions public to improve accountability 
  • Offer work and commutation credits to pretrial detainees


  • Reduce barriers through providing transitional housing, eliminating unnecessary employment restrictions and driver’s license suspensions, and supporting health care, education, and vocational opportunities
  • Allow more non-violent offenses to be expunged
  • Create an advisory board to recommend cases to the governor for consideration of pardons for people facing serious immigration consequences due to their criminal record
  • Restore the right to vote to all offenders in prison or on parole or probation, giving them greater stake in their community and reducing the impact of racial inequality in the criminal justice system

The Crossroads NJ series presents evidence-based policy recommendations, generated and vetted by experts. The Fund’s aim is to present a set of balanced and constructive recommendations that build a foundation for discussion, that The Fund for New Jersey Trustees feel are sound and workable. 

Consistent with its status as a philanthropic foundation, The Fund for New Jersey does not support candidates or political parties.