Below is the testimony of Rev. Charles F. Boyer that he presented on June 20, 2016 before
the New Jersey Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on S.677, which would require racial and ethnic impact statements (REIS) for certain bills and regulations affecting sentencing.
Thank you to distinguished members of this committee for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the New Jersey Annual Conference and the religious communities in New Jersey who support an end to racial disparities in our criminal justice system. Moreover, I am grateful to Senator Ronald Rice for his bold leadership and sponsorship of S.677. I urge this committee to vote yes on this bill, on behalf of the New Jersey Annual Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
A new report published by the Sentencing Project out of Washington D.C. shows that New Jersey is the worst state in the nation regarding racial disparities in the state’s prisons. Nationally African Americans are 6 times more likely to be in prison than whites. In New Jersey, African Americans are 12 times more likely. Although African Americans are only about 13% of the states population we are over 61% of the state’s prison population.
Our ministries and members call us to comfort and serve those harmed by crime, support accountability, rehabilitation, and restoration for those harmed by unfair criminal justice practices. From this vantage point, we have come to recognize the need for fundamental changes to New Jersey’s justice system.
We applaud the introduction for S.677 and believe its enactment will be a critical turning point in New Jersey’s recognition for the impact of criminal justice policies on communities of color. Its passage will provide a new tool for lawmakers to evaluate potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation. Practically speaking, it is important to address a policy’s unwarranted effects before it is adopted, as it is more difficult to reverse sentencing policies once they have been implemented.
We have a wide array of support for this bill. Not only are the 91 churches and 20,000 members of the AME Church in New Jersey in Support but clergy and laity from many denominations, rabbis and imams have expressed support, as well as members of the ACLU, NAACP, Drug Policy Alliance, New Jersey Parents Caucus, and Prison Watch.
New Jersey ought to be applauded for it’s work in criminal justice reform. But what stands today in front of us today is a major moral dilemma that does not give us time to celebrate. We must correct this injustice and a major step in doing so, is voting yes on Racial Impact Statement Legislation.