Three New Jersey Justice Reform Bills Signed Into Law By Gov. Phil Murphy

Legislative measures to reform the criminal justice system arising from the protests of the death of George Floyd were signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy July 1.

The new laws require law enforcement agencies to provide internal affairs and personnel files of law enforcement officers to other agencies under certain circumstances, assists inmates released from incarceration in obtaining necessary re-entry benefits, and accelerates rescinding of certain juvenile delinquency fines and making discretionary post-incarceration supervision due to COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been clear that New Jersey will be as aggressive as any state in the nation in our efforts to reform a criminal justice system that has largely failed our Black and Brown communities for far too long,” said Murphy in a press release. “Among other important changes, these measures promote a greater degree of professionalism in law enforcement hiring practices and ensure that young people and formerly incarcerated individuals who are re-entering society are provided with a meaningful chance to reach their full potential.”

Policeman Registration

The law now requires law enforcement agency to release an officer’s personal history, including misconduct, when they apply for a position with another agency. The bill was designed to prevent “bad actors” from being unwittingly hired by these other law enforcement agencies.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) noted that the vast majority of police officers serve with honor and meet the requirements of the power vested in them. However, it was of paramount importance those with a history of misconduct be reviewed in potential rehiring processes.

“How can we expect agencies to weed out bad actors if they can’t review an applicant’s full history? ” Weinberg asked. “When the public’s trust is on the line, no stone should be left unturned.”

The Assembly approved the law in a 72-2-0 vote, while it was released from the Senate following a 38-0 vote.

Addressing the ‘Muni Shuffle’

The practice of allowing an officer to retire, rather than be fired, was an issue in need of address, according to the legislators. The practice allowed officers to maintain state credentials while searching for jobs with other agencies, and was popular enough to be dubbed the “muni shuffle.”

Weinberg noted the practice was unacceptable, whether it was intentional or not. Eliminating the practice would serve to build trust between police forces and the public, according to backers of the bill.

“To strengthen the view of police as a force for good in the community, policies requiring disciplinary histories to be shared must be status quo,” echoed Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly (D-35). “Most officers spend their entire career acting honorably, but to maintain accountability, policy has to acknowledge the potential for bad actors to exist.”

Juvenile Justice Reform

Wimberly-sponsored legislation passed in the Assembly to accelerate the effective date of certain provisions of law enacted Jan. 20 connected to post-incarceration supervision for juveniles.

Under the bill, the elimination of certain court-imposed fines and mandatory assessments, and imposition of discretionary rather than mandatory post-incarceration supervision, would become effective immediately.

“To put the safety of our children first it is therefore critical to speed up the implementation of policies intending to protect against harsh juvenile sentencing, and to ensure greater priority for community-based rehabilitation and reintegration exists,” Wimberly said.

The juvenile justice reform bill we signed into law earlier this year was written before we had ever heard of the coronavirus,” said State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-35). “The pandemic, however, has made the implementation of this law that much more crucial as it will help lower populations in certain juvenile facilities and create greater opportunity for proper social distancing. I am glad the governor has recognized the urgency of signing this legislation today and discarded any further delay.”

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