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Sentencing: New Jersey Spends $331 Million a Year Jailing Nonviolent Drug Offenders, Study Finds as Legislature Ponders Reforms

As New Jersey legislators push for sentencing reforms of some mandatory minimum drug offense sentences, a new report from the Drug Policy Alliance finds that the state is spending more than $330 million a year to lock up nonviolent drug offenders. The state is also losing out financially in additional ways by imprisoning so many drug offenders, the report found.

The report, "Wasting Money, Wasting Lives: Calculating the Hidden Costs of Incarceration in New Jersey," found that the Garden State leads the nation in incarcerating drug offenders, with nearly half of all state prisoners doing time for drug offenses, well above the 31% national average. In addition to the direct costs of imprisoning about 7,000 new drug offenders each year, the state loses even more money from lost wages and tax revenues, unpaid child support, and decreased future earnings of people with criminal records. The report estimated that each person imprisoned in New Jersey will earn $100,000 less in his lifetime that he otherwise would have earned.

"We are creating an entire cast of people who will forever be economic and labor force outsiders," said Roseanne Scotti, director of DPA's New Jersey office, during a Wednesday press conference. Reduced earnings by former offenders hurt the state, she said. "It is money that would have gone into the larger New Jersey economy," Scotti said.

"The time has come for us to change from throw-away-the-key, lock-'em-up mandatory minimums," said Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union). "Let's understand that that hasn't worked."

Newark Mayor Cory Booker said that saddling drug users with criminal records forces them "to live on the margins as outcasts" and push them back toward drug use. "It is time to stop the madness," Booker said. "It is time to stop the hemorrhaging of good, hard-earned taxpayer dollars, pouring it into a hole that seems to get deeper and deeper and deeper."

The report release was timed to prod the legislature into passing a bill that would allow judges some flexibility in sentencing people arrested for nonviolent drug offenses in school zones. That bill, A 2762, has already passed one Assembly committee.

Wednesday, Cryan predicted the bill would pass by the end of June. Senate President Richard Codey (D-Essex) also came out in support of the bill that day. Now, its up to the rest of the legislature to decide whether it wants to take a baby step in the direction of reducing drug sentences and saving the state money.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
Looking for the easiest way to join the anti-drug war movement? You've found it!

sorry govner

we the people just cant afford your drug war .lets spend our police funds on real crime

Cops should be arresting prohibitionists... not citizens!

Nothing more disgusting and unamerican then criminal crackhead christian prohibitionists of the modern temperance movement. These people are the epitome of stupidity and criminality.

Just say NO to Christian Crackheads!


I just don't see how people can look you in the face and say "oh it's ok to drink or take these xanax, but it's not ok for you to smoke pot". How hypocritical. So, it's ok to get high, as long as someone is able to profit on it, is that it? I mean it's like "fuck what makes sense, we'll get those pot smoking hippies" (I think that was a Nixon quote). Well it's 90 years and a couple trillion dollars later and there's 10,000 times more people smoking pot now than in the 1930's when all this racist prohibitionism started. Great job Feds, I'm glad to see my tax dollars are being well spent.

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