The right to a jury of one’s peers is foundational to American democracy.
So foundational that the United States Supreme Court declared that in order for juries to be “instruments of public justice” they must be “a body truly representative of the community.”
And yet, New Jersey prohibits approximately 219,000 to 269,000 of its Black population from jury service because of a criminal conviction – a staggering 23-29%.
New Jersey leads the nation in having the highest racial inequality in Black/white incarceration rates for both adults and youth. A Black adult is over 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white adult, and a Black young person is 18 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white peer even though Black and white youth commit most offenses at similar rates.
By connecting jury service to criminal convictions, New Jersey imports racism into the jury service process – whitewashing our juries and impeding the right to a jury of one’s peers, while also disproportionately precluding Black community members from serving on juries.
This policy brief will outline why New Jersey must act urgently to end this racialized practice by expanding jury service to people with criminal (indictable) convictions.
The brief contains quotes from formerly incarcerated people sharing their perspective on this issue.