Saying that New Jersey has “the nation’s worst disparity in the rates of incarceration between black and white offenders,” Gov. Murphy on Sunday announced he is convening a commission to examine racial and ethnic disparities in the state’s criminal justice system.
The Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, a 13-member panel, was established by the Legislature in 2009 but no one was ever appointed to it during the administration of Murphy’s predecessor, Chris Christie, a Republican and former federal prosecutor. Consequently, the commission never met.
Wasting no time, Murphy, a Democrat and former Wall Street banker, said he has appointed two members to the panel: Deborah Poritz, 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 and a current member of the New Jersey Police Training Commission. He is a former member of the Edison Police Department.
Four commission members will be appointed by legislative leaders, Murphy said. Both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats. The commission’s seven other members will be 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. Each has the option of appointing a designee to serve in his or her place.
The commission is expected to issue a report to Murphy and the Legislature within one year of its first meeting.
A release issued by Murphy’s office included statements by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D., Middlesex).
“We must make sure that New Jersey’s criminal justice system adheres to the basic principles of fairness, proportionality and public safety,” Sweeney said. “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.”
Said Coughlin: “Racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system have plagued this state for far too long, and that must change. We’re finally taking steps toward a more just New Jersey.”
Murphy, who has never before held elected office, ran on a progressive platform. At his inauguration in January, the resident of Middletown, Monmouth County, pledged a broad reform of the criminal justice system, including the legalization of marijuana, and urged the Legislature to immediately send him bills to “strengthen our gun laws.”