New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has until July 10 to sign a bill that would make his state the fourth in the country to require legislators to compile a “racial impact statement” before passing criminal justice legislation.
Racial impact statements are meant to curb the over-representation of minorities in United States prison systems, but the reports have proved totally ineffective in the three states which have implemented them so far, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
Black people make up 61 percent of New Jersey’s prison population but only 14 percent of the state’s general population, and blacks are jailed at 12 times the rate of whites. However, opponents of impact statements argue that these statistics don’t mean the laws are unjust.
“The whole idea of the civil-rights movement was to get government out of the business of taking race into account,” Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity told the Journal. “Is government supposed to say, ‘We’re not going to pass this bill because it has a politically incorrect racial result even though it’s a necessary bill?'”
Clegg argues that the high incarceration and crime rates in minority communities are due to the prominence of out-of-wedlock births, not racist law enforcement.
Clegg also points out that there is little evidence the reports even work. Iowa has required racial impact statements since as early as 2009, but the reports have had no effect on the passage of 16 justice bills investigated by a study from the Simpson College Urban Studies Institute.
Supporters, however, argue Christie should sign the bill because it can only help.
“These impact statements only help us make more informed decisions,” Dianna Houenou, policy counsel for the New Jersey ACLU, told the Journal. “We cannot continue burying our head in the sand and pretend that our laws are being enforced in a way that is race-neutral just because they are written that way.”
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