New Jersey Gov. Revives Long-Dead Commission To Slash Prison Racial Disparity

Anders Hagstrom | Justice Reporter

New Jersey’s new Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy revived a state push to reduce racial disparities in its justice system Sunday, reversing course from former Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

The freshly-inaugurated Democrat appointed members to the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission Sunday, a 13-member group that Christie had refused to populate, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. New Jersey imprisons 12 times as many black people as it does white people, despite the former making up 13 percent of the population, according to Statistical Atlas. The commission will provide a report on the issue to Murphy and the legislature within a year of its first meeting.

“We must make sure that New Jersey’s criminal justice system adheres to the basic principles of fairness, proportionality and public safety,” State Senate President Steve Sweeney said in a statement. “Sound sentencing policies and a deliberative review of the standards that help determine what sentences are imposed are important to a judicial system that doesn’t just aspire to our ideals of justice, but meets them.”

The commission was originally created in 2009, but remained unpopulated under Christie, who pursued cutting racial disparities by reforming the bail system. (RELATED: How A New Jersey Bar Fight Could Bring Down New Jersey’s Bail Laws)

Murphy selected two of the commissions 13 members: Deborah Poritz, a former state attorney general and chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and Jiles Ship, the former president of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives. Legislative leaders will appoint four other members, and the remaining spots will be taken by the state attorney general, the public defender, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, the chairman of the state Parole Board, the president of the state County Prosecutors Association, and the president of the New Jersey Bar Association.

“Racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system have plagued this state for far too long, and that must change,” Democratic Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin told The Inquirer. “We’re finally taking steps toward a more just New Jersey.”

Democrats control both legislative chambers, and Christie’s replacement means they are likely to have free reign to make reforms. Murphy ran an an extremely progressive platform, promising to legalize marijuana, make extensive criminal justice reforms, and pursue gun control.

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