Justice and Public Safety
Criminal Justice Reform
The United States is home to almost five percent of the world's total population but about 25 percent of the world's prison population. The U.S. imprisons more people than any other country on earth and spend about a quarter of a trillion dollars each year on a bloated, backward criminal justice system.
Over the past 30 years, the federal prison population has grown by 800 percent, an increase largely due to overly-punitive sentences for nonviolent, low-level drug crimes. In fact, there are more people incarcerated in America today for drug offenses alone than all the people who were incarcerated nationwide in 1970. And these policies have disproportionately impacted people of color and lower-income communities.
In addition to undermining the potential of millions of Americans and exacerbating poverty, our criminal justice system places a huge burden on taxpayers who foot the bill. In 2012, the average American contributed $230 to corrections expenditures.
For those Americans released from prison, the physical barriers encountered behind bars are often replaced by the economic barrier of trying to find a job with a criminal record. The American Bar Association identified over 46,000 so-called "collateral consequences" that hold people back long after they complete their sentence and return to society. These consequences can include suspensions of the right to vote, as well as various obstacles to obtaining a job, and prohibitions on obtaining business license, housing and education.
Senator Booker is working with a bipartisan coalition to develop common-sense legislative proposals aimed at making America's criminal justice system fairer and more effective
After working for nearly two years on bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts in the Senate, in fall 2015 Senator Booker joined with a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce the historic Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (SRCA). This bill is designed to correct sentencing disparities and reduce mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders by reducing the use of mandatory minimum sentencing. In addition, the bill includes key provisions based on Senator Booker's proposals from his bipartisan Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment Act (REDEEM Act). If it becomes law, the SRCA would limit solitary confinement for juveniles in federal custody and would provide a pathway for the sealing and expungement of certain nonviolent juvenile records.
Employment and Reentry
To begin to address the fact that 75 percent of those released from prison are rearrested within three years of their release, Senator Booker introduced the Fair Chance Act, a bipartisan and bicameral piece of legislation that aims to give people convicted of non-violent crimes a fair chance at employment once they have paid their debt to society. The bill would prohibit federal agencies and federal contractors from making a criminal history inquiry at the outset of the employment application process and reserve the inquiry until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment. This would allow non-violent ex-offenders the opportunity to be seen by prospective employers for all of who they are rather than only the mistake that they made.
For too many children, zero tolerance discipline policies in schools across America serve as a gateway to the criminal justice system and a lifetime of devastating collateral consequences. Currently, over 75% of America's roughly 14,000 public school districts employ some form of a zero-tolerance discipline policy. These zero-tolerance policies mandate expulsion or referral to a juvenile or criminal court with no regard for circumstance. This pipeline also disparately burdens students of color and students with disabilities.
Senator Booker is committed to ending the school to prison pipeline and ensuring all students are able to learn in supportive environments. Senator Booker joined with his colleagues in introducing the Supportive School Climate Act of 2015 to support state efforts for positive behavioral interventions and to improve youth outcomes.
In addition to introducing the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, Senator Booker introduced the bipartisan MERCY Act. The MERCY Act would prohibit the solitary confinement of juveniles tried in the federal system and held in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities, except as a temporary response where the individual poses a risk of harm to him or herself or to others.
Senator Booker believes it is critically important for law enforcement officials to have the resources and support they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. He is committed to pursuing policies that protect police officers and the public.
Senator Booker has worked with fellow New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez to bring more federal funding home to our state for hiring and supporting police officers.
Senator Booker and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence (PRIDE) Act to improve data reporting and help federal, state and local officials better protect the public and law enforcement officers.
Senator Booker believes it is incumbent on Congress to pass comprehensive, common sense legislation that mandates background checks on all firearm sales, including sales between private parties.
Senator Booker also supports taking more robust steps to help keep firearms away from the mentally ill, and to combat illegal gun trafficking.
Senator Booker took to the Senate floor in July 2016 to support a filibuster aimed at getting the Senate to act on common sense policies to reduce gun violence, including closing the so-called "terror gap" loophole and implementing universal background checks on all gun purchases.
Senator Booker believes that comprehensive immigration reform is critical to protecting our national security, growing our economy and protecting the dignity of all Americans.
Senator Booker is committed to Congress's passage of comprehensive immigration reform. He supports a course of action that offers a reasonable path to citizenship while doing more to secure our country's borders. A common sense approach to immigration will improve economic conditions in America, foster a more secure nation, and help us live up to our ideals and values.
In the Senator's Newark and Camden offices, New Jerseyans and their families can request help with immigration and citizenship issues. If you or a loved one would like assistance from Senator Booker's office with a casework issue, click here.