(TRENTON) – Senator Ronald Rice and Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (both D-Essex) announced Friday the introduction of legislation aiming to ensure diverse representation and expand the scope of duties of an existing state panel to include reviewing racial bias in the state’s criminal justice system.
The legislation (A-5239) would increase the membership of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission and expand the duties of the commission. The CSDC was established in 2009 by P.L.2009, c.81, and is charged with conducting a thorough review of the criminal sentencing provisions of New Jersey law for consideration of possible recommendations for revisions to the laws governing the criminal justice system.
“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,” said Senator Rice. “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.”
“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,” said Assemblywoman Speight. “It begins with ensuring diverse representation on a critical state commission which discusses important matters surrounding law enforcement and our criminal justice system. It continues with understanding when and where racial bias and racial disparities come into play within our criminal justice system. Only then can we begin to directly address inequality and injustice occurring in our communities.
Under the bill, the membership of the commission increases from 13 to 17 members. The four additional members would include the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus or designee, the Chair of the Legislative Latino Caucus or designee, and two public members.
The measure would also broaden the scope of the annual report from the CSDC to the Governor and the Legislature concerning disparity issues in the criminal justice process to add such areas as policing, access to criminal defense legal representation, and jury selection processes to the existing reporting area of charging and plea decisions.
The bill will be referred to a committee for consideration.