Mayor Cory Booker of Newark had a well written and fascinating op-ed in Sunday’s Star-Ledger entitled: “When neither crime nor punishment pays“. It focuses on “the way we have chosen to deal with crime is leading our nation away from its highest ideals and producing results that stand in stinging contradiction to who we claim to be.”
“When an adult is released and sincerely wants to stay out of prison, he faces a host of barriers to success that we do little to address. Ex-offenders are ineligible for numerous public assistance programs. They are stripped of their driving privileges, which might allow them to get to work; even if their driving privileges have not been revoked, they cannot obtain a commercial driver’s license. They are entangled in a host of legal challenges, from parking tickets that turned into warrants for their arrest while they were in jail to child-support payments that have accrued to tens of thousands of dollars.
These Americans have a host of urgent needs, from housing to hunger and, of course, to children and families that desperately need their help. And as they try to meet these needs, they face a nearly insurmountable hurdle — a community stigma that prevents many employers from hiring them.
I meet dozens of men every week with dramatic and painful stories of what they have been doing to survive, stay out of trouble and try to maintain financial stability. I see their sense of personal victory that they have resisted the easy, yet dangerous, call back to criminal activity that can afford quick but costly answers to their financial needs. However, I also see their frustration that, despite years of walking the right path, they still face a persistent punishment that costs them the right to return to society as a full and productive member and is depriving America of an enormous swath of its potential human talent. New Jersey’s narrow expungement laws have men caught selling drugs in their 20s still paying the price in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
Enough. As mayor of our state’s largest city I have decided to join with others to do whatever is necessary for a dramatic change in crime and prisoner re-entry policy at every level of government. In the coming weeks, we will announce a series of changes we will make here in Newark to reverse this travesty; however, as important as they are, they will not be enough to adequately alter the devastating course on which we find ourselves.
We live in a profoundly interconnected world, with interwoven destinies. This is not an urban problem or a suburban problem. It is not a black problem or a white problem. If we continue on the path we have chosen in the years and decades ahead, all of New Jersey will feel greater and greater pain and be forced to pay the ever- increasing price. American greatness has always required sacrifice, but we have been sacrificing and bleeding in the most senseless fashion, diminishing our nation’s glory and strength. Now more than ever we must be united for broad- based reform. Now more than ever we must be the America of which we dream.