NEWARK, NJ – Gov. Phil Murphy signed two pieces legislation making major changes in criminal justice that officials predict will have a positive impact in Newark.
One bill will allow former convicts to vote in New Jersey while the second will change the expungement process in the state.
“Our Administration is deeply committed to transforming our criminal justice system, and today we are taking a historic step to give residents impacted by that system a second chance,” Murphy said.
“I am proud to sign one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, which will allow more New Jerseyans the opportunity to fully engage in our society," Murphy said. "I am also proud to enact legislation that will restore voting rights to over 80,000 residents on probation or parole, allowing them to fully participate in our democracy.”
The expungement bill, S4154, creates a petition process for “clean slate” for residents who have not committed an offense in 10 years and who have not been convicted of the most serious crimes.
The bill also requires the state to implement an automated clean slate expungement system, which will be developed by a task force charged with studying the technological, fiscal, and practical issues and challenges associated with such a system.
The legislation also calls for low-level marijuana convictions to be sealed upon the disposition of a case, preventing those convictions from being used against those individuals in the future.
It also makes numerous other changes to existing expungement procedures, including the creation of an e-filing system that would eliminate filing fees to petition for an expungement.
“The collateral consequences that come with a criminal conviction have been devastating communities of color, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and fracturing families for much too long," said Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, a sponsor of the expungement legislation.
"Whenever there is a conversation about the racial disparities among our state’s incarceration rates, we cannot forget that those convictions follow people for the rest of their lives,” said Ruiz, a Democrat who represents the 29th District, which includes parts of Newark and Belleville.
“Expungement can begin to address the inequalities that exist in our criminal justice system. There is more work that needs to be done, but this legislation is a significant step in the right direction,” Ruiz said.
The bill restoring voting rights to New Jersey residents on probation or parole, A5823, has been advocated for years by groups who argued that New Jersey residents who committed a crime, but served their time, deserved the right to vote.
“After fighting for so long, those on parole or probation will finally regain the right to vote, and have the opportunity to participate in our democracy,” said Sen. Ronald Rice, a sponsor of the legislation.
“The right to vote is our most important right, one that was fought for by our predecessors," said Rice, a Democrat who represents the 28th District, which includes parts of Newark along with Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Irvington and Nutley.
"We cannot take these new opportunities for granted, and need to continue to work to make sure no one in New Jersey and this country loses the right to vote,” Rice said.
New Jersey joins 16 other states that have restored the voting rights of former convicts.
“Voting is an opportunity for all residents to have their say in who leads their communities and state,” said Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, a Democrat who represents the 28th District. “No one population should be disproportionately denied their right to vote. These are outdated laws that have no place in a modern democracy.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the bills would positively impact Newark.
“Our state’s democracy will be further strengthened by legislation that will allow the right to vote for those that are on parole and/or probation and improve the process for expungements in our state," Baraka said. "Historically, the failure to do so has held back too many individuals from having access to their basic freedoms and liberties."
Ryan P. Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said his organization launched a campaign two years ago called the 1844 No More, named for the year New Jersey denied the vote to people who were convicted of a crime.
“On this historic day, New Jersey has lifted ... 83,000 ghosts of democracy out of the shadows so that they can finally be seen, heard, and represented,” Haygood said. "This is what it looks like to build an inclusive democracy, from the ground up, in this difficult national moment."