On Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation designed to reform New Jersey’s criminal justice system.

During a visit to the New Hope Baptist Memorial Church in Elizabeth, Murphy told those assembled he has just signed legislation to “streamline New Jersey’s parole system, reform New Jersey’s juvenile justice system."

One new law integrates principles from the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative — a process that aims to balance public safety with improvements to the conditions and circumstances around juvenile confinement —  into New Jersey's Juvenile Justice Code.

These reforms include eliminating fines as a penalty for juvenile offenders, limiting when juveniles may be incarcerated and replacing mandatory post-incarceration supervision periods with discretionary ones.

It also transfers the responsibility of parole decisions from the State Parole Board to a panel made up of at least two members from the Juvenile Justice Commission and one member of the State Parole Board.

Another law introduces reforms to New Jersey’s parole system, allowing some inmates who have committed nonviolent crime to be released on parole after a streamlined review.

Another measure signed into law reforms requirements for civil asset forfeiture.
Another funds violence reduction initiatives.

Murphy said his administration is deeply committed “to ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system and today we are taking critical steps to ensure the scales of justice work equally for not some, but all New Jerseyans.”

During his remarks, Murphy said until recently, New Jersey held “the dubious distinction of having the nation’s widest gap in the rate of black-white incarceration, a staggering 12 to 1.”

“When I took office two years ago, one of the highest priorities I brought with me was to undo the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and I’m proud that this is a premise that we are keeping," Murphy said.

Murphy also told the congregation that last month he signed legislation that allows more non-violent offenders to completely expunge their criminal records if they don’t break any laws for 10 years, and he also approved a measure that allows individual on parole or probation to have voting rights restored.

“We are a state that believes in second chances. We are a state that is stronger when we allow people to grow and move forward in their lives, and to fully use their own God-given talents," Murphy said.

And he vowed to continue to press ahead with his "second-chance agenda."

“These changes are not just about writing a new chapter in New Jersey history. They are about making up for the failures of history,” he said. “These changes are a second chance for New Jersey to do the right thing. We have a lot of history to make up for and yes, we still have much more to do.”

During the event, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal noted the Juvenile Justice Commission, over the past 15 years, has implemented a number of reforms that have reduced the number of youthful offender in custody by more than 85%.

“We are committed to using additional tools to continue this great work to reduce racial disparities that still exist in the system,” he said.

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