There have been many allegations that New Jersey’s bail system as currently practiced is racist. New Jersey Division of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) President Richard Smith told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that with the current bail system, African-Americans, Latinos and the poor are sitting in jail for 10 months on average for minor offenses.
Smith said that New Jersey has an unjust justice system and he thinks that the bail system in the state is broken. He said that African-Americans, Latinos and the poor sit in jail for an average of 10 months for minor offenses when the vast majority of them pose no threat or risk to the community at large. He said on the other hand there are individuals who have the finances to make bail, so they do and they go free without the system taking into consideration what danger they may pose to the community.
A question about bail reform will be on the ballot in November. Smith said that this is an issue that the NAACP and Gov. Chris Christie can agree on. He said the NAACP is a non-partisan organization but is very political and he thinks that with mature leadership there are going to be issues where the NAACP agrees with Christie and issues where they don’t agree. Smith said that he thinks the NAACP and Christie need to come together on the issues they agree upon, especially when it is going to benefit the people of New Jersey. He said that if the NAACP and Christie are fighting with each other in the press, the people are still hurting.
Smith thinks that a new bail system would help some of the people who have been sitting in jail for long periods of time with minor offenses.
When asked how many people of color are in jail for marijuana charges, Smith said that he did not have those specific data, but he supports decriminalizing the drug.
Smith said that the vast majority of those who are being arrested for marijuana-related offenses are African-American and Latino while statistics show that Caucasian men and women consume marijuana at higher rates. He said that it is a civil rights issue and is an issue that the NAACP needs to be at the table for when the discussions start. He said that he wants to make sure that any legislation that is going to be authored is going to work in the best interests of those he serves.
Smith said that it is the NAACP’s challenge and charge to do more when it comes to civil rights, which he intends to do. He said that he came into the position with the belief that the organization needed to have a broader governmental presence and he hit the ground running. He said that the NAACP immediately opened a state conference headquarters in Trenton which will enable it to have the broader governmental presence. Smith said that in the past there have been times when the NAACP would show up after legislation had been passed expressing opinions and now he wants to make sure that they are there when the discussions on issues start.