Cunningham Co-Sponsors Bill Package to Reform Criminal Sentencing

Senate Clears Cunningham, Pou Package to Reform Criminal Sentencing 

 Legislation would remove mandatory minimums for non-violent offenses

TRENTON – A major criminal justice reform package, which would alter criminal sentencing norms and remove mandatory minimums, passed the full Senate this week. The legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra Cunningham and Senator Nellie Pou is based on recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission.

“Meaningful sentencing reform is long overdue. If we are ever going to reverse the harmful effects of mass incarceration we must move away from doling out lengthy sentences for minor offenses and this legislation is the first step towards realizing that goal,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “By removing mandatory minimums on non-violent offenses we can return the discretionary power back to our judges and allow them to issue sentences based on what is truly in the best interest of the individual and our society.”

“As we address the historically bias criminal sentencing practices, we have to consider those who are currently serving severe, decades-long sentences that were saddled on them as juveniles,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen). “We cannot right every wrong, but when we build a better future and restructure policies for criminal sentencing moving forward, we cannot forget those still living with the sentencing policies of the past. The sentencing reforms that we have passed are a small but crucial piece of the greater effort to build a safer, fairer and more just New Jersey.”

The Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission was created in 2009 by the New Jersey Legislature to conduct a thorough review of the state’s criminal sentencing provisions and consider recommendations to reform the laws governing the criminal justice system. Senator Cunningham and Senator Pou were both members of the commission which was chaired by former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz.

S.2586 – The bill, sponsored by Senator Cunningham, would implement sentencing recommendations of the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission to eliminate mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenses and nonviolent property crimes. It would also reduce mandatory minimum sentences for second-degree robbery and burglary.

S.2592 – The bill, sponsored by Senator Pou, would provide the court with discretion to consider the age of a youthful defendant as a mitigating factor in sentencing.

S.2594 – The bill, sponsored by Senator Cunningham, would establish a compassionate release program for inmates suffering from a grave medical condition, terminal illness or permanent physical incapacity.

S.2595 – The bill, sponsored by Senator Cunningham, would require a study be performed to determine the cost savings of the compassionate release program and the elimination of mandatory minimums. Under the bill, any cost savings would go towards the “Corrections Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention Fund” which would support recidivism reduction programs.