PISCATAWAY, NJ – Community members of all faiths and nationalities joined U.S. Senator Corey Booker at a forum on criminal justice reform on Tuesday, where panelists from law enforcement agencies and departments of higher education spoke on the long-lasting effects of injustices handed down to nonviolent “drug” offenders and the need for reform.
“There are 40,000 collateral affects that people don’t realize will follow them because of being convicted,” Booker said from the pulpit at Piscataway’s North Stelton A.M.E. Church.
He explained how defendants who are faced with drug charges often take plea bargain deals not understanding that agreeing to become a convict will limit or deny their access to such things as housing, jobs, government services, voting, and education tuition assistance whenever they are released from prison.
“We do not have equal justice under the law,” said Booker, adding that the poor and minorities are more likely to be incarcerated for non-violent offenses as a result of the war on drugs that began in the 1970s and 80s.
An advocate for reform, Booker has used his position as a U.S. Senator to introduce and cosponsor bipartisan bills that “break down barriers to reintegration, improve employability for ex-offenders, increase police data reporting and transparency, reform archaic sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes and limit the unnecessary use of solitary confinement.”
He said he has argued against mandatory minimum sentences which often cause non-violent offenders to do more time in prison than those convicted of violent offenses.
“My appeal is for people to understand this makes no sense and has to change,” he said adding that mass incarceration drives poverty in this country. “We have the power to do something about it but what’s lacking is public outrage.”
“The community has to take an interest and be involved in this issue,” agreed panelist, Donita Judge, Senior Attorney for the Advancement Project who has also been involved with voter fraud issues in Florida.
“It can cost $35,000 (a year) to keep someone in prison,” said Paul Fishman, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey. “It’s a lot cheaper to send them to college.”
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