On March 15th, 2023, over 150 New Jersey Together clergy and community leaders from Hudson, Essex, and Morris counties gathered for an action at Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Jersey City. The Action aimed to celebrate progress on fines, fees, and outstanding warrants and to push the issue further. The Action celebrated Hudson County's commitment to helping currently and formerly incarcerated people clear fines, fees, outstanding warrants, and more. At the meeting, leaders also advocated for statewide expansion of the campaign.
The importance of eliminating these barriers cannot be overstated. Doing so would mitigate the economic burden faced by people re-entering our communities by significantly reducing the number of fines they have to pay post-incarceration, reducing the threat of re-incarceration after release (for other charges, allowing the individual to address them concurrently), and reducing the amount of time people have to spend in court post-incarceration (which often interferes with a formerly incarcerated person's efforts towards employment or reintegration). For further background, please see this op-ed on the issue written by NJT/Metro IAF organizers.
Like community organizer with NJT and co-director of the Returning Citizens Support Group Al-Tariq Witcher says, "the solution is relatively simple: help people get in front of a Judge to ask for their fines and fees to be resolved." All correctional facilities must do is inform their inmates about the availability of a form that will enable them to request to get in front of a judge. This will significantly increase the chance of getting discretionary fines reduced or eliminated.
The initiative to address this issue started when members of NJT met with the Hudson County Correctional Facility (HCCF) leaders, the Hudson County Prosecutor and Public Defender's Office, and the County Department of Housing and Community Reintegration, all of which are cooperating in this effort. The legislation will be needed to end all inappropriate fines and fees, but this collaborative approach creates a real opportunity for progress.
At the Action, attendees heard stories from people directly impacted by inappropriate fines, fees, and outstanding warrants. NJT re-confirmed and congratulated HCCF Commissioner Deputy Commissioner Edward Nestor and Hudson County Commissioner William O'Dea for their commitment to collaborate on this campaign's success.
"Although we have plenty to celebrate today thanks to the leadership from our community leaders and the Hudson county officials, the work is far from over. This is one victory. It cannot end here– this is just the beginning." ~ Minister Galindo King from New Life Recovery and Reentry