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Lawmakers push reforms for drug offenders

Craig D. Frazier | 8/7/2014, 12:51 p.m.
U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., are pushing a new bipartisan bill to reform criminal background checks ...
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker

U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., are pushing a new bipartisan bill to reform criminal background checks and the juvenile justice system. They say the war on drugs can be excessive and counterproductive and disproportionately affect the poor and minority communities.

The senators say their bill, the Redeem Act, will limit how long ex-offenders will have criminal records. New Jersey Department of Corrections data reports that 25 percent of their inmates are drug offenders. New Jersey prisons have approximately 13,003 inmates, 89.7 percent male and 10.3 percent female. Blacks account for 54 percent of the population and females make up 44 percent.

“The legislation will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways,” said Booker. “It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”

Ninety-five percent of adults released from a New Jersey prison will return to communities in New Jersey. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) return to seven counties in the state: Essex (14 percent), Camden (11 percent), Atlantic (8 percent), Hudson (8 percent), Middlesex (8 percent), Passaic (7 percent) and Union (9 percent), according to New Jersey Corrections. The barriers that offenders face when they reintegrate into society range from restricted access to affordable housing and limited employment opportunities and driving privileges, to the social stigma of being an “ex-con.”

Booker, the fourth Black senator elected since Reconstruction ended in 1877, spoke out about both the racial disparities at play and the overuse of harsh sentences for Americans who commit low-level, nonviolent crimes. “The majority of our criminals that we lock up are nonviolent offenders,” he said “We’ve got to start figuring out ways to empower them to succeed.