Changes to criminal-justice laws in New Jersey now require an analysis of their impact on racial and ethnic minorities, the Wall Street Journal reports. A bill mandating the analyses, which outgoing Gov. Chris Christie signed Monday, requires the state’s Office of Legislative Services to prepare racial-impact statements for policy changes that affect pretrial detention, sentencing and parole. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who was sworn in Tuesday, is interested in legalizing marijuana and at ending mandatory minimum sentences. Under the new law, such changes would require impact statements. The legislation notes that criminal-justice policies, “while neutral on their face, often adversely affect minority communities.”
New Jersey has the nation’s largest disparity between white and black incarceration rates, says the Sentencing Project, which advocates reducing the prison population. The state’s prison population is 61 percent black, 22 percent white and 16 percent Hispanic. The state’s population is 14 percent black, 69 percent white and 18 percent Hispanic. Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon also require racial-impact statements, said the Sentencing Project’s Nicole Porter. Iowa lawmakers decided not to pass legislation that would increase penalties for cocaine offenses after a racial-impact statement showed the policy would disproportionately affect blacks. Critics say lawmakers shouldn’t take race into account. Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute pointed to Justice Department statistics that show blacks committed homicides at a rate almost eight times that of whites from 1980 to 2008. Blacks were also disproportionately likely to be victims of homicides. “Given the elevated rates of both black victimization and black crime commission, racially neutral criminal justice practices and laws will inevitably have disparate impact on blacks,” she said.