Lawmakers withdraw bill that would increase preventive incarceration for crimes committed with a firearm

A lawmaker who has proposed making it easier to jail people accused of gun crimes withdrew his bill on Monday in response to concerns from critics that it could send thousands more people to jail and have an impact disproportionate to people of color.

Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) said he plans to reintroduce the bill next month after making changes to ensure it doesn’t ensnare too many people before they do. have had their day in court.

“The bill may, in fact, go a little too far,” Cryan told the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, which was to vote on it.

Cryan said he shared critics’ concerns that the bill could leave far more people behind bars than the “bad actors” and repeat offenders the legislation’s sponsors intended to target.

An identical bill sponsored by Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic) authorized the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee last week, despite objections from civil rights groups and of New Jersey public defender Joseph Krakora, who has warned he will increase incarcerations in a state that has halved its prison population over the past decade.

Law enforcement must now demonstrate why a defendant, other than those charged with serious offenses like murder, should be detained before trial. Under the Wimberly and Cryan legislation, defendants charged with certain gun crimes would be automatically detained unless they were able to persuade a judge that they posed no risk of flight or reoffending. It would apply to those charged under the Graves Act, which sets mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes committed with firearms, including unlawful possession of firearms.

Mayors of some New Jersey cities support the bill, saying it would reduce gun crime.

Yannick Wood of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice told committee members on Monday that the bill undermines recent criminal justice reforms, including bail reform.

“We all want to be safe, but a knee-jerk response to failed crime-fighting policies of the past will not make us safer in the long run and will only reinforce a racist system of mass incarceration,” Wood said. “The undeniable impact of this legislation is that it will increase racial disparities in our prison system.”

New Jersey already has the highest racial disparities in incarceration in the country, with black people accounting for 42% of those held in county jails, even though they make up 15% of the state’s population, said Wood.

At last week’s meeting of the Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee, Justice Glenn Grant, administrative director of the courts, said the proposed changes could double the rate of detention of those charged with offenses under the Graves Act while awaiting trial.

About 70% of those currently in custody are believed to be black, Grant said, citing a recent analysis produced by the Courts Administration Office.

Cryan acknowledged that he did not want the bill to erode criminal justice reforms.

“Many of you who have worked on bail reform understand that this is a living, living document, but also a successful implementation, and frankly most consider it a national standard” , Cryan said. “It is clear that the impact of this bill is significant for the courts and for the justice system as well.

He said he would amend the bill to limit those affected to “more serious offenders” who have a history of “continuous use of a firearm”.

Wimberly’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Robert Nixon testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs.

“If you commit a felony with a firearm in New Jersey, you shouldn’t get a slap on the wrist,” Nixon said.

Nikita Biryukov contributed to this story.

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