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Legislation Permitting Retroactive Modification of Mandatory Minimum Sentences Passes Full Assembly

As part of the Legislature’s ongoing efforts to address racial disparities in New Jersey’s judicial sentencing and prison population, three Assembly Democrats sponsor a bill allowing mandatory minimums to be retroactively altered on behalf of certain inmates.

The legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Linda Carter (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union), Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris) and Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) passed the full Assembly Thursday, 51-21-2.

The bill (A-4370) would authorize the Administrative Director of the Courts to issue an order to rescind the mandatory minimum period an inmate must serve before being eligible for parole, if the inmate was convicted of certain non-violent crimes such as cargo theft, drug distribution or shoplifting. The inmate would then receive the standard period of parole ineligibility which is 33 percent of their sentence instead of the mandatory minimum. If the inmate already served that percentage, they would be eligible to proceed with the parole process.

In addition, the fixed term of parole eligibility for second degree robbery or burglary would be reduced from 85 percent to 50 percent of the inmate’s sentence.

Under the bill, the Commissioner of Corrections would be required to identify which inmates would be eligible for resentencing and provide a list to the Supreme Court, Attorney General and county prosecutors. Prosecutors would then review the list and decide whether to file an objection, with approval from the Attorney General, to any particular inmate’s resentencing.

If an objection is filed, a hearing would be held to decide whether an individual’s modification of parole eligibility would pose a substantial risk to public safety or whether the number of aggravating factors of the case, such as severity of harm inflicted on a victim, substantially outweigh the mitigating factors, such as a lack of prior convictions.

Upon the bill’s passage, the sponsors issued the following joint statement:

“Mandating a minimum amount of time an individual must remain incarcerated before becoming eligible for parole is not the best way to ensure justice in our court system. Each case must be considered on an individual basis in order to address the specific circumstances and factors involved in the crime.

“New Jersey has the highest rate of racial disparity among prisoners in the nation. Mandatory minimums only further this divide, since Black residents more often face charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence than White residents who commit the same crime. We cannot continue to allow arbitrary penalties for non-violent offenses to ruin countless people’s lives and our communities of color.

“The justice system should not be based solely on punitive measures, but must also focus on reform and rehabilitation. This legislation is a step in that direction.”