June 30, 2023
NEWARK – A group of racial justice advocates (the “Racial Justice Advocates”) today sent a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy urging him to veto A4930, A4931, A5034 and A5189, regressive bills that increase penalties and pre-trial detention for auto theft crimes.
The letter argues that while auto theft is a troubling personal violation, these bills represent a knee-jerk reaction to false narratives about crime that will undermine progress made from bail reform, fail to provide real solutions by neglecting to address the root causes of criminal activity and exacerbate New Jersey’s stark racial disparities in criminal justice.
The Racial Justice Advocates point out that law enforcement is already successfully addressing car theft in New Jersey and the incidence of auto theft has been declining despite fear-based perceptions to the contrary.
“False narratives about auto theft and political expediency are fueling fear, which is the driving force for these regressive bills. Fear should not be the basis for legislation that will negatively impact many lives,” said the Racial Justice Advocates in their letter.
The letter explains that by increasing pre-trial detention, these auto theft bills undermine the success of New Jersey’s bail reform and set it up “as the scapegoat for false narratives about crime setting New Jersey on a backwards track to increased overincarceration.”
Bail reform in New Jersey has successfully eliminated a system where people were detained not based on risk but based on the amount of money they had. With bail reform, defendants returned to court at a rate as high as 97.1% in 2020. Moreover, the vast majority of defendants that are released pretrial are not rearrested and only 1.2% of released defendants were rearrested for the most serious offenses.
The Racial Justice Advocates also argue in their letter that auto theft related crimes “are largely crimes of opportunity and those accused and convicted of these crimes are largely people lacking opportunities. By simply looking to detain and incarcerate more people for longer periods, we are failing as a state to meaningfully evaluate why these crimes continue.”
Finally and crucially, the letter points out that these bills will exacerbate New Jersey’s stark racial disparities in criminal justice. A Black adult is 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white adult in New Jersey. Black youth are 18 times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth – even though Black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates.
“We should be focusing on addressing these stark racial disparities and working to shrink our prison populations, not considering laws that will lead to more individuals – more Black individuals – to be incarcerated,” said the letter.
A full copy of the letter can be found here.