Former inmates who are on parole or probation in New Jersey now have the right to vote but they can’t serve on a jury.

Wanda Bertram, communications strategist and spokesperson for the Prison Policy Initiative said even if you only have a misdemeanor on your record, you are currently barred from sitting on a jury in the Garden State.

'Excluding people with criminal records from the jury selection process is actually removing systemically a very important voice in jury deliberations'

“We want formally incarcerated people to have a voice in the society. Everybody deserves to have a voice in the society and return to the process of civic engagement after they’ve done their time,” she said.

She said it’s counter-productive that “people who have seen the criminal justice system firsthand are actually excluded from participating in the trial process for other people.”

Bertram noted it’s hard to argue that serving on a jury is a privilege that is lost when you commit a crime.

“I don’t think of jury service as something people throw their hands up in the air to be given the opportunity to do. I think of it as a critical part of the criminal justice process,” she said. “Excluding people with criminal records from the jury selection process is actually removing systemically a very important voice in jury deliberations.”

Revisit the felony theft threshold

According to Bertram, another area of concern in New Jersey is the felony theft threshold, which hasn’t been changed in decades. The current threshold on the books is $200.

“If you think about the value of something like an iPhone, if you just commit a very petty theft, you steal someone’s iPhone, that’s a felony, you can go to prison for that,” she said.

Close-up. Arrested man handcuffed (jinga80, ThinkStock))
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She said if the goal is to reduce prison populations “there is a reason to focus on some of the less serious crimes first, and I think that for the Legislature to take another look at these felony theft thresholds would be a really good priority.”

She said even though progress has been made in New Jersey people need to realize “we have a system of mass incarceration that is not going to go away just because of a couple of years of reform.”

The Prison Policy Initiative has published a new report detailing timely and winnable criminal justice reform issues. They are broken down into 8 main categories, including:

— Expand alternatives to criminal justice system responses to social problems

— Reduce the number of people entering the "revolving doors" of jails and prisons

— Improve sentencing structures and release process to encourage timely and successful releases from prison
— Reduce the footprint of probation and parole systems and support success on supervision

— Protect incarcerated people and families from exploitation by private contractors

— Promote physical and mental health among incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people

— Give all communities equal voice in how our justice system works

— Eliminate relics of the harmful and racist "War on Drugs"

The report is available here.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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