By Dari Kotzker
Senate candidate Cory Booker took the stage at the same Jersey City church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached just eight days before his assassination. Booker unveiled his plans to reform the criminal justice system, which costs taxpayers $74 billion a year to house thousands of prisoners.
“This system that we have, this criminal justice system that’s not cost effective, it’s definitely not making our streets safer and it’s eroding the potential of people who could be contributing to our society instead of taking from it,” Booker said.
The Newark mayor laid out his plan to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, increase funding for prisoner re-entry programs, increase funding for drug and community courts and end the use of private prisons.
“I am fundamentally against private prisons,” Booker said. “It’s basically saying that I’m putting a profit incentive, there’s a profit motive now to warehouse human beings.”
Also on the agenda — decriminalizing marijuana. He says marijuana arrests make up half of drug arrests in New Jersey.
“Blacks in America are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession and use than white people despite the fact that their usage rates are no different,” Booker said.
It’s 50 years since Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, but Booker says many laws still disproportionally target the poor and minorities.
“Blacks in New Jersey make up 14 percent of the state’s population, but over 60 percent of the inmates in our state’s prisons. There is something deeply and fundamentally wrong with those numbers,” Booker said.
As Booker explained his new initiatives, he often referred to his personal experience of starting similar programs in Newark and he says they proved to be successful.
“We actually even partnered with the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, to establish highly effective, pragmatic, common sense programs to reduce the prevalence of re-offending, saving taxpayer dollars and improving public safety all at once,” he said.
Booker brushed aside Republican candidate Steve Lonegan’s claim that given Newark’s plague of gun violence, the mayor’s in no position to offer crime-fighting tactics.
“Today we’re not talking about politics. Today I’m not talking about my opponent. I’m talking about quality ideas that are proven to solve this problem, to make our communities safer,” Booker said.