In New Jersey, blacks make up 61 percent of the prison population but only 14 percent of the state’s residents. A bill now in the hands of Gov. Chris Christie would make New Jersey the fourth state to require lawmakers to consider a “racial impact statement” before approving criminal justice legislation, the Wall Street Journal reports. The movement toward racial impact statements is emerging as another front in the long-running debate on race and criminal justice. The debate has intensified partly due to a series of police shootings of black men that were captured on video.
Supporters of the bill say the Republican governor’s signature would reinforce one of the strengths of his record—an innovative approach to criminal justice—at time when his poll ratings are among the worst of any governor. Opponents contend that sentencing laws should be written without consideration of race. Christie has made combatting the drug addiction crisis a signature issue, backing laws that expand alternatives to prison for drug offenders, require insurers to cover six months of addiction treatment, and overhaul the state’s bail system so poor people aren’t unnecessarily behind bars. The governor was tapped by President Trump to lead a national commission to combat opioid addiction. Opponents of racial impact statements, however, like Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity, said they distract policy makers from the root causes of crime in minority communities, particularly higher rates of out-of-wedlock births. Christie must decide by next Monday whether to sign the bill.