ACLU-NJ Applauds NJ Governor’s Clemency Order 

Gavel with open book and scales on table

Gavel with open book and scales on table

By Rajesvi Deora

NEW JERSEY – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) recently released a statement applauding New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order to create an advisory board for processing clemency petitions for people who meet specific criteria for consideration.

According to the ACLU, this order comes following the ACLU-NJ’s launch of The Clemency Project to “address systemic injustices and harsh sentences” while reducing mass incarceration in the state.

Those impacted by the clemency order include people who committed crimes after being victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking, or other forms of sexual abuse; and people with sentences impacted by excessive trial penalties, who may be suitable for pardons and commutations on their sentences, said the ACLU.

“Clemency is about more than mercy – it can be a tool to end mass incarceration. We built The Clemency Project to ensure we don’t leave any stone unturned in the pursuit of justice,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of ACLU-NJ.

Sinha added, “I am grateful to Gov. Murphy for embracing categorical clemency as a way to address injustices in the criminal legal system. We look forward to seeing the Governor fully exercise his executive power by pardoning and commuting the sentences of scores of people before the end of his term, demonstrating that New Jersey prioritizes people over punishment.”

ACLU-NJ attorneys had already started submitting petitions for release for survivors of domestic violence, and hired Rebecca Uwakwe, a senior staff attorney for decarceration, in January 2023 to oversee a “larger decarcerative vision.”

“Clemency is a lifeline for the people we have met with. The Clemency Project is a focused effort to mitigate injustice and address the harms of mass incarceration – and it may be the last opportunity for people to come home to their families and communities,” said Uwakwe.

“In a state with the nation’s highest racial disparities among its incarcerated population, ensuring New Jersey leverages every tool it has available to release people from prison is fundamental to racial justice,” added Uwakwe.

According to a statement, ACLU-NJ has already facilitated a “historic reduction” in New Jersey’s prison population – almost 50 percent since 2011. The ACLU chapter has also called on local leaders to adopt a more “holistic approach” to decarceration.

“Categorical clemency is a powerful tool to mitigate injustice, but it has been historically underutilized in New Jersey. Gov. Murphy has broad constitutional authority to grant pardons and commutations, and today’s executive order opens a door to exercising this power on the largest scale in New Jersey’s recent history. This is an important step in redressing some of the systemic harms of the criminal legal system,” said Jeanne LoCicero, legal director of ACLU-NJ.

The ACLU-NJ asserts New Jersey prisons possess some of the worst racial disparities of the country.

According to ACLU-NJ, only 105 people have been granted clemency since 1994 and it is imperative that systemic “checks and balances” in the system, facilitated by clemency, become the norm, not the exception.

Lisa Monet Wayne, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), said, “By recognizing and addressing the severe impact of coercive plea bargaining and extreme trial penalties, the governor is upholding the principles of fairness and justice.

“We strongly encourage him to go further and fully utilize his clemency powers to provide relief to those serving disproportionately long sentences simply for exercising their constitutional right to a trial. This action will not only help to correct past wrongs but also set a powerful precedent for meaningful reform.”

“Long sentences and harsh punishment don’t deliver safety or real accountability to survivors of crime. A more effective response is to support survivors with the services they need and facilitate repair and change among those who commit harm so that they can safely come home and be contributing members of our communities,” argued Marta Nelson, director of Sentencing Reform at the Vera Institute of Justice.

Nelson added, “It takes courage and clear-headedness to release people from prison who should not be there. Thank you, Gov. Murphy, for helping to build a criminal legal system with more integrity.”

About The Author

Rajesvi Deora is a fourth-year Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major at University of California, Davis, who is minoring in Professional Writing and Public Health. Aiming to join the healthcare workforce in the future, Rajesvi hopes that her time with the Davis Vanguard expands her boundaries of perspective, empathy and humanity such that she is a person who is aware of daily injustices, and is sympathetic and receptive to them. Rajesvi hopes the experiences and stories she gains while being an intern will provide her the fuel to advocate for injustice in any field or space. She enjoys writing poetry, singing and spending time with family in her free time.

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