NEWARK, NJ - A minister at the Saint James AME Church will be taking a specific belief with him to the state Parole Board: redemption.
“I'm able to bring in a different perspective - as a clergy, as a minister - that believes not only in redemption but also believes in the importance of putting people on the right path,” The Rev. Dr. Ronald Slaughter said.
Slaughter was sworn in Wednesday to his six-year term as an associate board member at the agency. He took the oath at the church he preaches to on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.
People convicted of crimes who are up for parole must go before two of the 14 board members. The decisions made by the Parole Board will have a big impact on not only inmates’ lives, but victims, families and even communities.
It’s not only redemption - and getting people back into their communities to contribute in positive ways - that Slaughter would consider as a parole board member though.
“You also want to be cognizant of public safety,” he added. “You want to be cognizant of victims, and what they've been through. But I think the key thing is getting a person on the right path.”
The reverend's swearing-in ceremony had been a long time coming.
The governor nominates parole board members, who must be approved by the state Senate. Gov. Phil Murphy nominated Slaughter in August 2018, but he wasn’t confirmed in the Senate until this month.
In December, Murphy raised concerns about what was holding up confirmations for more than 70 of his nominees. Nominees sometimes get caught in between the political back and forth.
“Because of the politics of the state,” said state Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) when asked what caused the delay. “He was more than qualified, that wasn't it. Oftentimes, in Trenton some of my colleagues don't like people speaking truth to power.”
Attending the pastor's swearing-in ceremony was Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., who once sparred with Slaughter over issues at the county college. DiVincenzo has ties to Senate President Stephen Sweeney, who oftentimes is a political opponent of the governor’s.
The county executive’s attendance last night was a sign that he’s patched things up with the minister.
“He's someone here that's very well known in the community, very well known in the church,” DiVincenzo said. “I think he's going to be a big help to us, especially people in the inner cities, the minority community. One thing that I like to see is kids getting second and third chance. I think him being on the parole board is going to help.”
Slaughter is a Florida native who became the youngest minister at Saint James AME Church in 2011. He’s been preaching since 1999 and recently received his doctorate from Wesley Theological Seminary.
Those at the ceremony said Slaughter always had an interest in social issues. He’s advocated for housing, jobs and raised concerns about race at Kean University.
Slaughter said reform is needed in the criminal justice system, but change is often slow to come.
“It makes no sense that minorities are the most incarcerated people in this country - in this state,” he said. “But yet, we are in the minority as a race and as a people. Something is wrong with that picture now."
Rice, an opponent of recreational marijuana, has also been plugging for expungement to get passed now that it’s unlikely the legislature will legalize the drug any time soon. The expungement bill for those with minor marijuana charges seems to be on hold now that recreational marijuana is not up for a vote among lawmakers.
“So what does that mean?” Rice said. “Well, that means that we're going to need some parole boards that's sensitive to the needs of the parolees and others.”