WWNG Up, Inc. Founder & President Gale Muhammad
770 Marne Hwy Suite 2D Moorestown, New Jersey 08057 Tel: 609-346-2521 Email: Gale@wwng.org
December 18, 2017
Re: Opposition to Assembly Bill 5264
Chairman and Members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee: On behalf of my organization, Women Who Never Give-Up (WWNG), I urge you to vote no on Assembly Bill 5264. WWNG is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that confronts a wide range of criminal justice issues. Adopting both an individual and a systemic approach to public advocacy, WWNG fights for incarcerated persons and their families, while also working with correctional facilities, state agencies, and lawmakers to improve prison conditions, reduce terms of imprisonment, and decrease racial and economic disparity in the justice system. One of our core principles is opposition excessive sentencing.
The penalties proposed in this legislation would rival the infamous (and now reformed) Rockefeller drug laws in New York. Essentially very low-level offenses—often committed by people who are themselves addicted—would carry heavy penalties previously reserved for large scale distributors.
The legislation takes a misguided and ineffective approach to the issue of opioid abuse. This bill represents a doubling down on failed drug policies that have been widely repudiated by the public and elected officials across the political spectrum and throughout the country. New Jersey, along with the rest of the nation, has spent the last 30 years increasing the length of sentences and imposing mandatory minimums for drug-related offenses. These policies have not improved public safety or reduced the use or availability of drugs. Instead, they have packed our prisons, devastated communities and gobbled up precious economic resources that could have been better spent on effective drug prevention and treatment.
In addition, A5264 would waste millions of dollars a year, yet do nothing to reduce heroin availability or use. The proposed law would fill New Jersey’s prisons with nonviolent offenders serving disproportionately long sentences. A fiscal estimate for similar bills (A783 Page 1 of 2 and A2831), introduced last session, found that it would cost New Jersey taxpayers almost $8 million more a year to warehouse offenders for these draconian sentences.
This bill would also have an enormous disparate racial impact, devastating communities that are already suffering from the effects of mass incarceration and a lack of supportive social services. The glaring inequalities in our criminal justice system have sparked concern and even outrage across the political spectrum. While African Americans and Latinos make up only 27 percent of the population in New Jersey, they account for more than 80 percent of those incarcerated for drug offenses. New Jersey already has the worst racial disparities in our prison system in the country, and this bill would only serve to exacerbate this injustice.
Moreover, this legislation would place an enormous burden on New Jersey’s budget when the state is struggling with budget deficits and facing painful decisions about cutting services and support for already vulnerable communities across the state. At a time when half of the adults and two-thirds of the adolescents who want drug treatment in New Jersey cannot access it due to a lack of funding, and when New Jersey is faced with painful cuts to all areas of the budget, the state cannot afford to spend millions more on an already bloated corrections system and more failed drug policies.
New Jersey has become a national leader in opioid policy by supporting legislation and policies that treat opioids as the health issue that they are. Our state has recognized that we cannot arrest or incarcerate ourselves out of this problem. A5264 is an assault on this forward-thinking policy agenda and would be a huge step backwards for New Jersey.
Money is desperately needed for more treatment beds; people are begging for help, and New Jersey should not consider spending millions of dollars more a year on incarceration. For these reasons, WWNG strongly opposes A5264. Again, I urge you to vote no on this regressive legislation.
Thank you for your attention. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss this matter or have any questions.
Sincerely, s/ Gale Muhammad, WWNG, Inc., President & Founder