NJ court ruling limits long prison sentences for youth crimes

In a momentous policy change this month, New Jersey quietly spread hope to inmates serving lengthy sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles that they could be released from prison sooner than expected.

But unlike many of their peer states, New Jersey’s shift to reduce the amount of time juvenile offenders must stay behind bars was not the result of a grand bargain between lawmakers and the governor.  

It was an order from the state Supreme Court, which said it could no longer wait for New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Legislature to act.

The high court’s ruling eliminates the state’s mandatory 30-year minimum sentence for juvenile offenders and will allow those already serving time to seek a court review after 20 years.

New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner

Trenton’s policymakers are still divided on the policy, for unknown reasons. One of the top sponsors of the bill to enshrine the 20-year review policy into law, Sen. Nellie Pou, said she doesn’t have the 21 votes needed “to get it done.” The same bill failed in that chamber in 2020. 

“I want people to understand that the juveniles who were tried as adults and given sentences of 30 years and more should be provided the opportunity to have their sentences reviewed,” Pou, D-Passaic, said in a statement. “I’ll continue to make my case on this issue, but the important thing for now is the court’s ruling.” 


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