Backed by an online petition, a number of Essex County residents launched a campaign this week aimed at New Jersey legislators, calling for a bill that will reduce the number of adults and youth in New Jersey state prisons.

According to a 2013 Drug Policy Alliance report, there is at least one correctional facility (a.k.a. jail) in each county, with a total of 22 county correctional facilities in New Jersey. Of the 13,003 inmates, 89.7 percent were male and 10.3 percent were female. Blacks accounted for 54 percent of the population, and females made up 44 percent. New Jersey State Department of Corrections data say that 25 percent of inmates are drug offenders.

“It is of the utmost importance that our communities take the lead in pushing for legislation that will address the disproportionate representation of Blacks among the prison population,” said community organizer Cassandra Dock. “We need to take the first step.”

Dock is one of more than 1000 Essex County residents who signed a petition asking for the support of New Jersey state Sen. Ronald Rice and urging him to introduce a bill they call “The New Jersey Decarceration Act.” The bill would initiate a large-scale release of those incarcerated, particularly for nonviolent drug-related and other nonviolent small-scale economic crimes they call “crimes of survival.”

“We are confident in our outreach to Rice that he will realize that if there is ever a Black agenda issue, an issue that affects the impoverished throughout Essex County, this unjust ‘justice’ system is it,” Dock added.

Dock states that she will reach out to Sen. Rice by phone to set up a meeting with him. A street panel discussion is scheduled for July 30, 5:30 p.m. outside Newark City Hall. By the time the AmNews went to press this week, no one from Rice’s office was available for comment. The petition can be read and signed at the following link: