We Are Human

This is a guest post on the weblog Live from Lockdown, “the real deal, authentic and uncensored. Born in the Bureau of Prisons’ Special Management Unit (SMU) at one of the nation’s most notorious prisons- the Big House, USP Lewisburg”: 

November 14th 2012

I’m writing this piece on prison life due to the fact that there is so much going on within this prison system, specifically the NJ Department Of Corrections (NJDOC), that society should know. These issues really need to be exploited and hopefully whoever reads this will be able to get it to the media and really put the issues on the table.

I’ve been incarcerated for a little over ten years now, and I’ve pretty much seen things in this prison system, which are not only a violation of my rights but to society as well. I say that because the way we are treated and conditioned in here is the way most of us will come home and carry ourselves because this is all we know after being incarcerated in these conditions for so long. Prepare yourself for what it is to be HELD PRISONER in Trenton (NJ) State Prison’s Management Control Unit (M.C.U.)…..

First, I will touch on the food being served daily. Most days the food that is supposed to be served hot is usually the exact opposite, cold. For example, I can get a tray of oatmeal and put my spoon in it to take a bite and literally pick up the whole serving at once. That’s usually how most of our food is. I’ve even saw one of the brothers open one of the milks and there was some type of black tar stuck to the inside of the milk carton. Finding dead and live insects in a meal in here doesn’t surprise the average prisoner at all. Mice droppings have also become part of some of our diets as well. Moldy bread is so normal in certain areas in this prison system that I actually heard someone trying to convince another prisoner that mold can be good for them in some ways. Not to mention that most of the food we are served really does look like vomit. How can a person sit down and eat something that looks like cold vomit?

We are treated like this because we are convicted felons and a lot of us have committed some very harsh crimes. In the eyes of most we should not be treated fairly or even be alive for that matter, but the fact still remains that WE ARE HUMAN and deserve to be treated as such. Not to mention that just because you are in prison you have committed a crime. In my eyes, from what I know, there are more innocent people in prison than there are on the street.

Another issue I want to touch on is the living conditions we are FORCED to endure. These cages they house us in shouldn’t even be utilized for animals, let alone humans. The paint is so badly chipped and falling off the walls that it can’t be safe to be around 24-hours per day. Most of the toilets and sinks are so messed up that these plumbers are probably the busiest workers in this prison system. If I flush my toilet, my feces come up in my neighbor’s toilet in the cell next to mine and vice versa.

As for the “water” that’s coming out of the sink, it isn’t clear at all. The water that comes out of these sinks is white. Sometimes if I’m lucky, I will catch it clear. Still, I know it’s no pure because the smell of it is one that automatically draws a warning sign in your head not to drink it.

The vents meant for air circulation are so filthy and dusty that it is impossible for them to serve their original purpose. There are two vents in these cells. The one that blows usually blows out a smell that will eventually push us to just block the entire thing up, period. The one that is for suction is so clogged and dusty that it barely works. With the vents like this, it almost always causes us to get sick and sometimes even stay sick. These types of living conditions are definitely a health hazard to us as well as the staff that are around us 24 hours per day.


Another thing is the ceiling leaks water into our cells on rainy days. The more it rains outside, the more water literally leaks in our cells; all over our beds, electronics, down our walls, and even to the hallways on the tier. We’ve wrote this issue up so many times through the remedy system and still the issue remains. This is pretty much an M.C.U. issue.

There is so much dust and dirt throughout this prison that I’m almost certain that it’s killing us slowly. There are guys that have been incarcerated in this prison so long that it is impossible to say that these conditions are not just affecting them. The Administration just doesn’t seem to care at all. In my eyes, they’d rather let us live in cruel conditions and save money than fix these problems.

Not only are the living conditions cruel and unusual punishment but the simple fact that they make us spend years in Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) is literally having a real negative affect on us mentally.

Solitary confinement has proven to be very dangerous to a person’s physical and mental health, especially in cases of extended isolation. Personally, I have experienced some of the negative affects of solitary confinement such as not being comfortable around other people. I also can’t be myself around people any more. It’s like I shy away from people whenever they try to talk to me, or I start stuttering and get nervous during conversations because I am just not used to them any more. I even get like this when my own family comes to visit me now.

The only way I can truly express myself is simply by writing. I’ve been in solitary for over five years and have ten years to go. It’s like the longer I am here and isolated from others, I don’t trust anyone else, and my guard is always up whenever I’m around other people. The reason why it feels crazy to me is because I am well aware of it, and I know that it has to be the solitary confinement. But, still, I can’t help it when put in a position around others. Nonetheless, I do everything in my power to keep my sanity such as: reading, writing, praying, and exercising. Deep down inside, I know I need help.

I’ve seen guys lose their minds in here right in front of my eyes. One minute they were alright and the next minute they didn’t even know where they were. That’s what scares me the most. I don’t want to be one of those guys. The thing is, they don’t want to give me the help I need. So now I ask myself questions like, how much longer can I hold out?

Another issue is the ad-seg conditions throughout the NJDOC system. Administrative Segregation is a lockup where prisoners are put in whenever they are institutionally charged with an infraction of some sort. In addition to being placed in ad-seg for fifteen years, I ws put on M.C.U. status as well. The Management Control Unit is also a lockup for gang leaders who have too much influence, guys that have killed or seriously hurt Correction Officers, guys with extensive disciplinary histories, a violent past, or pose a threat to others and the facility.

Recently, they made a change to the commissary catalog for ad-seg prisoners throughout the entire New Jersey prison system. They took things off our catalogs that were actually more helpful than anything. For example, we used to be able to order vitamins- such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E and multivitamins. Now, they told us we can’t order them any more. They never gave a specific reason. They just said we can’t.
The only type of food that ad-seg prisoners are now allowed to order is all junk and sweets. There is no actual real food on the commissary order form for ad-seg prisoners like there used to be. They just recently changed this on November 1, 2011. They removed all the soups, fish, chicken, and other foods and left us with stuff that will eventually give us diabetes if we choose to eat it. To be honest, most of us don’t have a choice. We just can’t simply eat the slop they serve. Even if we do eat it, the portions are so little that we are left still hungry.

So first they take all the vitamins and other health products off of commissary, then they take all the food off and add all the junk food and sweets. Does this seem like people trying to help or trying to hurt us?
It’s not like ad-seg prisoners don’t have to endure these conditions for years at a time in most cases. I am a prime example that that’s not true. This is not only a disgrace, but it’s also a health hazard.
They won’t let us order surge suppressors (outlet protectors) anymore. These prisons have power outages regularly. At one point in time, the power outages were so bad that eventually they actually put out a memo saying that we need to order surge suppressors so the power outages wouldn’t blow out our T.V.’s and other electronics. We did as told so our property wouldn’t be destroyed. Now, not only are they saying we can’t have them, but they actually came and took them away from us. It was like a big money scam or something…

Ad-seg prisoners also used to get “State Pay”. Basically, you would get about $18/month or so to buy the necessities such as toiletries (most can’t use the soap they give out here because it breaks them out), food for those who cannot eat what they serve, shower slippers, towels, washcloths, and other things that they do not provide but are needed. They just stopped giving ad-seg inmates State Pay, but regular population still gets State Pay. There are so many guys in ad-seg who don’t have family helping them or no support out there at all who can put money in their accounts so they could get what’s needed for survival. These guys are back here slowly losing their minds because in all actuality there’s only but so much a person can take.

Then, to top it all off, they just up and stopped everyone from smoking. There were no programs to help you quit, no substitutes- no nothing. Just forced to stop! I’m not mad at the that want us to stop smoking, but it’s they way they did it. There are guys who had been smoking for so long that they are now in here literally losing their minds because they were forced to stop. It’s good to stop smoking but the way they did it is very dangerous to prisoners as well as staff. And if they want to stop us from smoking out of concern for our health, what about our dietary needs and the facilities issues?

Another thing being done to ad-seg prisoners is that we are being denied schooling and rehabilitative programs. I literally have all the paperwork needed to back this up, an I am willing to mail anyone a copy who is reading this and willing to do something about it. I’ve written so many requests, letters and remedy forms letting them know that I would like to participate in their rehabilitative programs because I really want to change my life for the best. I’m willing to do what I can to learn how to become a better man and just learn the right ways to do things. I explained to them that I have fifteen years ad-seg, and I don’t want to sit here and not earn from it. They literally told me that I can’t take any of their programs because I am on ad-seg status. They said they do not offer any programs to ad-seg prisoners.

First and foremost, I have a right to rehabilitation by law. This prison system is basically designed to rehabilitate prisoners and get us ready for our return to society. By them denying me rehabilitative programs contradicts the whole purpose of the NJDOC. If anything, the guys on ad-seg are the ones who should really be getting the programs due to the fact that they are the ones allegedly catching the institutional infractions and getting into trouble.

I’ve got fifteen years ad-seg, M.C.U. status, and I’ve basically been in trouble since my incarceration. Now, I’m coming for help so I can better myself and change my life and they tell me no. How does that help anyone? And people wonder why a lot of guys come home with the same mentality, if not worse, they had when they went in. It’s because we aren’t getting any type of real help in here. It’s because these people rather keep any funds they receive to rehabilitate us and just simply tell us they aren’t going to help us.

Right now, I’m in Trenton (NJ) State Prison. Before I came here I was in Northern State Prison where I worked extra hard to obtain my high school diploma by enrolling in school and dedicating my days and nights to learning my work. Once I finally obtained my diploma, I immediately enrolled in a college correspondence course so I could obtain my College Degree in Psychology. Everything was smooth until I was transferred here to Trenton State Prison for a disciplinary infraction I caught. Once I got here, they immediately started denying me the access I needed to continue my courses because I’m an ad-seg prisoner and, according to them, ad-seg prisoners aren’t allowed to do anything but serve their ad-seg time. I explained to them that I was already in ad-seg when I started my college courses in Northern State Prison and that I would like to finish my courses and obtain my degree. They said no. That was in September 2010.

 I’ve been fighting for the right to continue my college courses and take rehabilitative programs since. I’ve explained to the administration on numerous occasions that I’ve been in ad-seg for over five years and have ten years left. I shouldn’t have to be here this long without schooling, rehabilitation or any other type of help for that matter. I’ve done my best to explain that I really want help. I’ve even sent letters to Commissioner Gary Lanigan, Governor Christopher Christie and other government officials about being denied the right to rehabilitation and education. Still, no progress. They are literally about to make me sit in solitary confinement for fifteen years and do nothing! This is the type of prison environment we are coming home from. What do you honestly expect guys’ minds to be like when they come from this type of setting?

Once again, I have all the necessary documents to back up all of these facts I’m putting out there about this prison system.

Another issue in here is the physical abuse by Correction Officers of the NJDOC. This is basically the reason why I have fifteen years ad-seg and M.C.U. status. This and the fact that they labeled me as a gang leader for the Bloods. I refuse to just stand there and watch physical abuse take place with another prisoner or especially with me. I’ve assaulted many officers in this prison system because they simply have it in their heads that they are just going to physically hurt us, and we will not, or should not, defend ourselves. This prison system is hiding so many incidents where they hurt guys very badly for no reason at all and in some cases they’ve even killed prisoners.

Nonetheless, the incidents aren’t being properly investigated. If they were, it would be known that the officer was dead wrong. I’ve been in incidents with these officers where even after I was handcuffed and restrained, they continued to assault me. They are cowards at heart and brainwashed at mind. It’s just so bad that they have transformed from prison guards into a gang amongst themselves. I will not say that it is all of them because there a lot of them who don’t partake in this behavior but the majority of them are guilty of these actions. As long as this type of behavior is taking place, I will continue to defend innocent brothers and myself. Most of these prison guards are so brainwashed and institutionalized that they start to act like they are locked up too. They do things we do such as collect commissary and make hookups (prison meals). They steal our magazines out of the mail. They pretty much have created an “Us against Them” environment. It’s strange to me because most of the time these officers aren’t even mentally stable. How did they even get the job to begin with?

I argued with an officer in here one day and he literally showed me a knife he had in his possession. He told me that he would definitely use it if I tried him. On one occasion, the officers planted a knife in my cell so they could set me up to get more charges. This indictment took place in 2007 right after the 2007 Rahway Prison riot, which I was involved in. I requested a polygraph test to prove that they planted the knife in my cell and the administrator of this prison at the time sent me a letter denying the polygraph. She said I couldn’t get a polygraph due to my extensive disciplinary background. That doesn’t have anything to do with me wanting to prove to her that I was innocent and her officers were dirty. She knew what it was already and that’s why I was denied. I have all the paperwork to prove this as well.

They even have prisoners in here that are beyond mentally disturbed who are not being treated at all. No medication, no attention- nothing. These guys bang on the doors all day and throw food and feces at people and, in some cases, even assault and murder other prisoners. Still, no help.

I’m literally on the same tier with a guy right now that murdered his cellmate a few years back and does nothing but kick his door, throw things, blow the power out of his socket, and much more. They don’t have him on medication, no programs, nothing! All they did was weld his plug sockets shut so he won’t blow the power out any more and took all his property. Would you consider something like that to help? He’s just one example there are many more just like him.

I’ve seen them carry so many dead prisoners out of here in body bags simply because somebody wasn’t getting the right treatment. Regardless if it was the guy that killed himself or, as it is in most cases, one prisoner killing another. Nonetheless, they rather worry about coming in our cells and taking extra sheets or trashing our cells to make us mad. Most of the officers that are being hired to work here belong in these cages.

This system is so corrupt that it is literally damaging the minds of prisoners and officers more than ever. This is the type of system that the people of New Jersey are contributing their tax dollars towards. The minute this is publicly exploited, I’m sure sure they will deny all of it and make it sound convincing as well. But once again, I have proof for most of it and if these issues are properly investigated, all of what I’m saying will be proved true.


The way this system runs it automatically breeds the mentalities of murderers, hate, thieves, and much more because the only thing being taught in here is negativity.

It has got to the point where they blame everything like the assaults taking place in here and things like that on gang violence. But then deny us the help we need and seek.


Until these issues are taken seriously it will only get worse. There will be no improvement whatsoever.

What I’ve told you in this correspondence isn’t even half of what’s going on in here. I’m just giving you a brief summary of what it’s like to be held prisoner in solitary confinement in New Jersey. Most of what I’ve written in this letter is specifically directed to this prison Trenton (NJ) State Prison, but it also goes for all the other prisons in New Jersey. I’ve been to a few and they are basically the same.

As I’ve said there is much more going on in here, which is being covered up by the people who run the NJDOC. If anyone reading this wants me to further elaborate on other issues, all you have to do is contact me.
Hopefully, someone who cares will read this and take immediate action towards correcting these problems.

Julius Wilson will be 29 years old on December 27, 2012. He is from Newark, NJ– the Weequahic Section– Elizabeth Avenue– The Towers from Renner to Meeker. Many may know him by the nickname “GRIMEY”. A lot may also know him as “JU”. 

He’s currently serving a 25-year sentence for a Felony Murder, which he maintains he was wrongfully convicted of, and has been incarcerated since 2002. 

Right now he’s in the Management Control Unit (MCU) of Trenton State Prison (NJSP), after having been sentenced to 15-years Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg) and permanent M.C.U. The MCU is a 23 & 1 lockdown and long-term isolation unit. 

Send light to
Julius Wilson #509928-541478-C 
P.O. Box 861
Trenton, NJ 08625


A view of prison life — from the inside: New Jersey Supermax, as filmed by a prisoner

A view of prison life — from the inside
By Sam Allis, Globe Staff | July 14, 2010
Boston Globe

We’ve seen sanitized glimpses of prison life before, in print and on television magazines. There is a distance to all of them from the inner reality of those institutions. Such efforts are almost always approved by corrections officials, and we see very little of the life those officials don’t want us to see. And then comes Omar Broadway.

Broadway, a member of the notorious Bloods gang, with a hair-raising criminal record, had served seven years in solitary confinement at New Jersey’s infamous Northern State Prison in Newark, on multiple felony convictions. Someone, presumably a sympathetic guard, smuggled him a digital video camera in 2004 to document conditions there. For six months, he recorded the life around him.

Despite limited camera range because of the small opening in his cell door, bad lighting, and jumpy camera work, he presents hallucinogenic sights and sounds of prison life — the remote echoes of voices, blurry frames of cell bars, indistinct figures of guards, inmates in their cells engaged in furious shadowboxing.

What he ends up with is “An Omar Broadway Film,’’ codirected by Broadway and Douglas Tirola, which was well received at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. HBO bought it during the festival, he says, following its penchant for airing documentaries you can’t imagine seeing anywhere else.

This one chronicles the appalling prisoner abuse by guards as well as the terror of the officers working there. The guards are a gang in their own right, formed to protect themselves from very dangerous men who are behind bars 23 hours a day. There exists a vicious intimacy between the two camps.

Most shocking are the protests by prisoners who refuse to return to their cells. They cover themselves in plastic to minimize the effects of pepper spray from the guards in riot gear, who charge in force. The guards quickly overwhelm the prisoners and beat them on the floor. Broadway chronicles a number of these ghastly rituals. The prisoners know what to expect, yet wait for the onslaught anyway, out of bravery or nihilistic resignation.

The documentary presents the prisoners as victims of the brutal environment. They are, but missing is what brought them there in the first place. These are bad actors, the most difficult gang leaders and members. They were sent to a special place — the Security Threat Group Management Unit, devised to isolate them from the general prison population — yet mention of their crimes in any specificity is lacking.

Tirola, president of 4th Row Films, directs those segments filmed outside of prison that focus on the mean streets of East Orange, N.J., where Broadway grew up. Drugs, violence, the neighborhood has it all. Broadway’s mother, Lynne, gives us a tour of the area. She is a strong-willed woman, defending her son and minimizing his criminal life.

Eventually, sympathetic guards, who all identify themselves as “Walter,’’ contact Broadway on his cellphone and help smuggle out the tapes. Broadway expects outrage from the public when it sees the footage. Not a chance. A local network affiliate airs some of it without result. Oprah Winfrey never responds to a request to air it. Broadway’s mother tries to sell DVDs of the footage on the streets. She sells 32.

She need worry no longer. HBO2 presents the film tonight to a national audience. Omar couldn’t ask for more.

Here is a synopsis of the film by Omar Broadway.

N.J. Prison Abused Inmates During Month-Long Lockdown

From: SolitaryWatch

April 14, 2010

by Jean Casella and James Ridgeway

Solitary confinement in U.S. prisons can take many forms–including the temporary lockdown of units, buildings, or entire prisons. These 24-hour lockdowns are routinely instituted in response to perceived threats to prison safety or authority. On occasion, they can extend to days, weeks, or even months, during which the prison is under a kind of martial law even more extreme than its normal conditions.

At Bayside State Prison in southern New Jersey, this kind of lockdown was instituted after the murder of a guard in 1997. It lasted more than a month, during which hundreds of Bayside prisoners say they were beaten and otherwise abused.

Their complaints languished for a decade. But last month, a retired judge, who was appointed by the federal courts to be a fact-finder in the case, determined that the New Jersey Department of Corrections is liable for their abuse. The decision by former U.S. District Chief Judge John W. Bissell, clears the way for inmates to sue the state.

A detailed report by Mike Newell in the Philadelphia Inquirer describes what took place at the prison in the summer of 1997.

Bayside, a medium-security prison with nearly 2,400 inmates in Cumberland County, was put on lockdown between July 30 and Sept. 3, 1997, after guard Fred Baker was stabbed in the back by an inmate with a makeshift knife.

Prisoners were confined to their cells, visitors were prohibited, and a Special Operations Group (SOG) consisting of 57 corrections officers from across New Jersey interrogated inmates and searched cells for weapons. The SOG officers dressed in riot gear, carried batons and mace, and did not wear name badges.

When the lockdown was lifted, inmates began to report stories of abuse to the Department of Corrections. More than three dozen inmates told The Inquirer in 1997 that they had been repeatedly beaten, dragged, forced to sit handcuffed in the prison gym for hours, threatened with dogs, and paraded through a gauntlet of SOG officers who beat them with nightsticks.

What happened next is an extreme version of a typical story–a series of half-hearted “investigations” and widespread coverups. As John Sullivan reported in the New York Times in 2003, in a long investigative article on the lockdown:

After the lockdown ended in September 1997, complaints of abuse began to leak from the prison. Newspapers reported the stories, and the Department of Corrections promised a thorough investigation.

The F.B.I. began to investigate after receiving written complaints from several inmates. But the investigator’s case file, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, showed that the agent handling the case made only one telephone call: to the internal affairs division’s office at Bayside State Prison. Over the phone, the file says, the agent learned that internal affairs planned to conduct its own investigation. Because internal affairs was already on the job, and because some inmates had hired lawyers, the agent concluded no further F.B.I. investigation was needed. The agent closed the case.

The F.B.I. file also noted that the United States attorney’s office in Newark had subpoenaed records about the lockdown, but the Justice Department said it closed the case in August 1999, for lack of evidence. Both the United States attorney and the F.B.I. declined to comment.

In the end, the investigation fell to the Department of Corrections’ internal affairs unit. Internal affairs investigators conducted hundreds of interviews and gave lie detector tests to several inmates. Some inmates passed those tests when they reported abuse by guards. But in nearly every case, investigators said they could not substantiate the charges against guards. Often, the investigators’ reports said cases boiled down to inmates’ words against guards’, or inmates could not clearly identify the guards in question.

”It seems almost there was a decision not to credit what an inmate says,” said Justin Loughry, a lawyer representing some Bayside inmates. By late 1998, internal affairs investigators concluded there was no evidence of widespread abuse…In the end, no charges, criminal or administrative, related to the aftermath of the murder were brought against guards at Bayside.

But ”questions about the Bayside episode refused to die,” the Times reported. The newspaper’s own investigations, along with those of inmates’ lawyers, uncovered internal prison documents, videotapes, and testimony from whistleblowers that supported the inmates abuse claims. Investigators complained of being told to file inaccurate reports. A few guards came forward to tell about the abuses they witnessed, and one prison ombudsman said that the warden had “responded to reports of injuries by saying prisoners had probably gotten into fights or fallen against their bunks.” According to the Times article:

Portions of surveillance videotapes, identified through the state’s Public Records Law, show guards dragging a handcuffed inmate down a steel staircase like a bag of laundry, and yanking another screaming inmate along a hallway. Other tapes show inmates with cuts and bruises. When an inmate being dragged along the floor begs to walk, a supervisor orders guards to keep him on the ground.

”Don’t pick him up, drag him,” a voice says on the tape. ”I want him drug along the floor, just like that, like a pig.”…

Inmates told similar tales. Adrian Torres, imprisoned for car theft, said prisoners were forced to kneel motionless in the gym for hours. Anyone who moved or complained was dragged to the back of the room and beaten, he said.

”You had inmates urinating in their clothes,” Mr. Torres said in an interview at Northern State Prison in Newark. ”They made it clear: If you turn your head, if you lift your hand up, if you even say anything, they were going to beat you up.”

A prison nurse testified in an unrelated administrative trial that hundreds of inmates went to the infirmary after altercations with guards. The former warden of a nearby prison said that an inmate returned from a work detail at Bayside bearing marks of a beating.

One guard, who requested anonymity, recalled that inmates were forced to walk a gantlet of guards who beat them with nightsticks. ”I could hear them screaming,” the guard said. ”It was horrible.”…

One prisoner, Wilbert Jones, said he was attacked and beaten without provocation by a group of guards, then charged with refusing to follow orders, and placed in solitary confinement for 180 days. ”It is unimaginable when you are in the hole, locked up for something you didn’t do,” Jones told the Times. ”That had to be the lowest point in my life.” His account was later corroborated by another guard who witnessed the attack, but because of the incident, he was denied parole–and remains in prison today.

Four days after the New York Times article appeared, in April 2003, the New Jersey attorney general opened a new investigation. A few inmates have since won damages in civil trials. But the March 29 decision by Judge Bissell will allow dozens, if not hundreds of inmates to sue the state for monetary damages.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bissell found that it was reasonable for the DOC to place the prison on lockdown following the killing of a guard. However, “both as designed and thereafter implemented, [the lockdown] violated the Eighth Amendment rights of inmates.” It quickly became clear that the guard’s murder was “an isolated incident,” Bissell wrote, so ”a full lockdown with SOG’s intimidating presence was not only unnecessary, but dangerous to the safety and well-being of the inmates.”

How often do we hear government officials express concern about “the safety and well-being of inmates”? To hear these words from a former federal district court judge, who has been appointed as a “special master” and empowered to make decisions about the case, offers some hope that after 13 years, these prisoners may finally find some justice.

NJ Overturns Unjust Sentencing Law


For Immediate Release
December 10, 2009
Judges will now have discretion in sentencing for non-violent offenses

TRENTON — In a landmark victory for civil rights, the New Jersey Senate today passed a bill (S1866) revising a decades-old policy that had punished people more harshly for committing non-violent drug crimes within several hundred feet of schools, unfairly targeting city dwellers. Once signed into law, individual judges will be able to use their discretion to issue fair sentences appropriate to the crimes committed.

“This legislation is smart on crime, not soft on crime. It marks a major step forward toward achieving justice in New Jersey’s criminal justice system,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. “New Jersey’s judges will now have authority to sentence people based on the severity of the crime, not the location.”

This legislation overturns the drug-free school zone law, which mandated lengthy sentences for any drug crime committed near a school. As a result, people in New Jersey’s more densely packed areas — for example, cities like Newark, Camden, Jersey City or New Brunswick — have been subject to a stricter standard of justice than those in the suburbs. Over the course of the drug-free school zone policy, 96 percent of those arrested for drug-free school offenses in New Jersey were black or Latino.

The Assembly passed the companion legislation, A2762, last year, and will need to vote on it once again to concur with the Senate version. Gov. Jon Corzine has said he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

This legislation promises fairness not only to New Jersey citizens relying on the criminal justice system, but to taxpayers. New Jersey’s prisons and jails are dangerously overcrowded and many non-violent offenders are serving sentences much longer than needed. Judges will be able to decide the appropriate punishments, and New Jerseyans will know that everyone, everywhere across the state has a fairer shot at justice.

Changing this law has been a top priority for the ACLU-NJ over the past decade, in a broad coalition with organizations including the Coalition of Community Corrections Providers of New Jersey, Corporation for Supportive Housing, Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Hispanic Directors Association, Latino Leadership Alliance, New Jersey Association on Correction, Volunteers of American Delaware Valley and Women Who Never Give Up. In addition, cities like Newark and Camden have passed resolutions supporting S1866.