Victories for NJ’s Young People & Democracy!

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Dear New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ) friend,

We’re pleased to be writing today with some good news!

After advocacy from the Institute and partners like you, Gov. Murphy today signed two bills into law that will help New Jersey’s young people – and the Legislature passed a bill that will help move our democracy forward and another that will ensure our youth have fair representation in the youth justice system.

First, the governor signed into law (S3319/A5507), a bill eliminating oppressive fines and fees for young people caught up in the criminal justice system. It’s painful enough for young people to experience the punitive treatment from that broken system – sometimes locked up in cruel youth prisons. These monetary penalties on top of that have been a sentence upon a sentence that have prevented youth from moving on with their lives.

Some of these fines and fees were eliminated two years ago. Today, Gov. Murphy finished the job by signing a law abolishing outstanding fines and fees.

The Camden Youth Council recently released this report calling out the damaging impact of fines and fees.

Also, today Gov. Murphy signed into law a bill (A5380/S3683) that will expose the extent of racial disparities in the state’s student loan debt. Because students of color are particularly affected by this debt, it is critical that we collect and rely on this information as we work toward closing the racial wealth gap and toward a New Jersey where students are not saddled with oppressive outstanding loans just as they are beginning their adult lives.

The Institute’s Freed from Debt report called for the collection of racial data regarding student loan debt, which will go into effect with today’s law.

But wait – there’s more!

The New Jersey Assembly passed S896/A2396, a bill to make public defender services free for youth under 18 – an issue highlighted in the Making Them Pay report by the Institute’s Camden Youth Council. Youth should never have to pay to defend themselves against criminal charges. The bill had already passed in the Senate, so it is now on its way to Gov. Murphy’s desk.

And finally, the Legislature also passed A4655/S3595, which will keep police at least 100 feet away from voting locations. Whether intentional or not, having law enforcement near a voting site can be intimidating to voters – especially Black voters who have had negative experiences with police. We’d heard from voters that this has been an issue, as addressed in our Election Protection Report from 2021. No one should be intimidated out of casting a ballot. This bill was a heavy lift, but we didn’t give up and our collective efforts paid off! It’s now on to the Governor for his signature.

Even as we continue to face unrelenting assaults on racial justice and equity in America, we are making progress in New Jersey.

These successes wouldn’t happen without your partnership.

Please continue to support our work by donating here and taking action here.

Onward!

Andrea McChristian

Law & Policy Director