Lengthy Sentences Do Not Serve as Deterrents, Address Root Causes, or Reduce Crime

Testimony from NJPP Senior Policy Analyst Marleina Ubel in opposition of increasing sentences for trespassing offenses.

Published on May 16, 2024 in Public Safety

Good morning, Chairman Stack and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

I’m Marleina Ubel, a senior policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP), a nonpartisan think tank focused on advancing economic, social, and racial justice for New Jersey residents.

First, I want to acknowledge that the work you do is challenging. You are pulled in different directions by people who feel passionately about these issues, and I believe that you are all trying to do what you feel is right. When I was younger, I had a mentor tell me, “doing the right thing is easy. It is knowing what the right thing is that is the hard part.” So, today I will share some information to help determine the right thing.

As written, S3006 will essentially turn trespassing into 2nd degree burglary subject to NERA. What that means is, this legislature is asking that someone who enters any place with an accommodation for sleeping without permission, whether or not the place is empty, be sent to prison for 5 to 10 years, have to serve at least 85% of their sentence before they are even eligible for parole, and have an additional mandatory period of supervision tacked on. Make no mistake, this will create a new mandatory minimum, even if those words do not appear in the bill. It can also make that person essentially ineligible for other programming, such as diversion programs for juveniles or recovery court for individuals who use drugs.

Research shows that property crime like burglary is tied to economic circumstances. So, this bill will target some of the most vulnerable New Jerseyans, such as unhoused people, and make them ineligible for services that might actually reduce the chances for reoffense. Thus, this bill will have unintended consequences and increase the chances that people reoffend by making support services — the kind that actually address root causes of crime — out of reach. This bill will also adversely affect juveniles, because a 2nd degree NERA offense makes it more likely that they are tried in an adult court even if their record is clean.

Lengthy sentences do not serve as deterrents or address root causes, and they do not reduce crime. In fact, research has shown that increased and continuous exposure to the penal system increases recidivism and exacerbates the circumstances that lead to criminal activity in the first place, things like, employment and educational opportunities, economic stability, relationships with community members and family – all of these things are ripped away from people when they are sent to prison. In this case, ripped away from someone who is likely vulnerable, nonviolent, or unhoused for what could be decade.

Bills like this are how we got to where we are today, known across the world as the incarceration nation. Please do the right thing and vote no on this bill.

Thank you and happy to take any questions.

Like this publication?

Please consider supporting NJPP.

Your support powers the research, communications, and partnership building necessary to make policy work for people, so every New Jerseyan can achieve their goal for a healthy and vibrant life.