In less than a week, New Jersey will conduct the first primary since the election of Donald Trump. Already, Trump has moved to turn back the clock in so many areas, including criminal justice reform. I first got “The Talk” when I was six and my mother told me when I left the store, I had to leave with a receipt and whatever I bought in a bag.
I learned then that the criminal justice system was deeply troubled but could be reformed. And I have believed it throughout my career—as under secretary of the U.S. Treasury, as a federal prosecutor and as chair of the Brennan Center for Justice. At home in New Jersey, after the deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island, I co-founded a group called New Jersey Communities Forward to bring law enforcement and communities together, eventually resulting in what was a groundbreaking body camera policy for police in New Jersey.
I am now running for governor of New Jersey for that very same reason, to bring equality, fairness and opportunity to all of our communities. To achieve this goal, criminal justice reform must be a priority. Here in New Jersey, we have the highest Black and white incarceration disparity of any state in the country. We imprison Black residents at 12 times the rate of white residents. At the juvenile level, it’s even worse. African-American children are 24.3 times more likely to be placed in youth prisons than their white peers. New Jersey’s next governor cannot ignore these issues and expect the state to succeed. The time to act is now.
My plan for real reform doesn’t just aim to reduce the number of people we’re putting behind bars. It aims to provide opportunity for all communities and replace a cycle of despair with a possibility of hope. It calls for diversion and intervention, and programs that emphasize treatment and rehabilitation over incarceration. It calls for the end of juvenile prisons, so that our state plays no role in ruining the future of our children. It calls for an end to mandatory minimums and investment in re-entry programs, so that we’re ensuring people can find meaning in their lives and play a productive role in our community after they serve their time. My plan includes legalizing marijuana, an important step to ending the War on Drugs that has devastated a disproportionate number of Black communities.
Real change in New Jersey requires real democracy. On June 6, after eight years of failed leadership from Chris Christie and Democratic leadership alike, New Jersey voters will head to the polls in the first major statewide election since the nomination of Donald Trump. Communities across the state have been held back and suffered because the failed leadership in Trenton has forgotten their primary purpose: to serve the people. Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines. It’s time to ensure that every one of our voices can be heard, so that we can finally achieve real change. I’m running for governor to put New Jersey’s state government back in the hands of the people—and for justice. I hope you’ll join me.
Jim Johnson is former under secretary of the U.S. Treasury and a Democratic candidate for New Jersey governor.