Good reasons to release non-violent offenders after basic sentence fulfillment

Crowded Prisons, Wasted Money 75% recidivism
This testimony was given by a member of the Integrated Justice Alliance (IJA) to the Senate Judiciary Committee on 14 July 2016.

Chairman and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee,

Good afternoon. My name is Anna “Cuqui” Rivera and I am here today representing the Integrated Justice Alliance (IJA). Founded in 2008, a statewide network working toward a fair, effective criminal justice system: one that promotes public safety, the restoration of individuals and families, protects and safeguards the rights of individuals in custody, promotes transparency, ensures accountability and spends taxpayer dollars wisely.

I urge you to vote yes on Senate Bill 895 which would allow for the release of certain nonviolent offenders after they have completed their basic sentence, provided that they have not committed any serious disciplinary infractions while incarcerated and have complied with rehabilitation recommendations.

Incarcerating a low-risk individual after they have completed their basic sentence wastes taxpayer money and reduces their chance of successful reentry and reintegration into the community upon their release. The United States spent 67 billion dollars on incarceration in 2015, but not on education or prevention. The overuse of incarceration tears apart vulnerable families and communities.

While African Americans and Latinos make up less than 30 percent of the New Jersey population, they account for more than 80 percent of those who are incarcerated. And racial disparities in New Jersey prisons are the highest in the nation.

In addition to the huge financial cost of imprisonment, research shows that long prison sentences do not enhance public safety or promote rehabilitation. Instead, they simply prolong the separation of incarcerated people from their families and communities, further compounding the challenges they will face in their inevitable reintegration.

At the moment, many minor administrative delays mean that low level offenders often remain in prison long after they are eligible for parole at a very high tax payer price.

As a criminal justice reform advocate, I see members of my community going to prison in record numbers, only to return and find themselves hopelessly and repeatedly discriminated against in legitimate labor and housing markets. So many would benefit from shorter sentences followed by release to case management, community and counseling services; this would allow them to more easily reconnect with family and work towards becoming positive and productive members of society.

Ensuring the safety and well-being of our community is one of IJA’s highest priorities. Lengthy and unnecessary terms of incarceration cannot serve these objectives. We believe that morality, fair play, and common sense require us to pass the S-895 to ensure a less discriminatory and effective justice system.

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