MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – In recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022, members of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office participated in a virtual forum hosted by the Martin Luther King Observance Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, alongside other leaders in the Morris County community.
The panel was conducted on Thursday, January 6, and broadcast on January 17, in conjunction with the Martin Luther King Observance Committee’s 2022 program.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert J. Carroll, First Assistant Prosecutor Maggie Calderwood, and Sgt. Patrick LaGuerre joined the panel, composed of Rev. Alison Miller of Morristown Unitarian Fellowship and the Interfaith Clergy Council; Herman Scott, Chaplain of the Morris County Jail and Criminal Justice Chair of the Morris County NAACP Branch; and Frank McMillan, Chair of New Jersey Together.
Topics discussed included racial disparity in sentencing and pre-trial detention, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the recent mental health diversionary program.
Prosecutor Carroll recalled when he first joined the office in October 2020, he initiated a blind study of 150 Morris County cases to determine if disparities resulted from any prosecutorial discretion or minimum sentencing state statutes. The intra-office study removed names, races and other identifying factors. The study found what determines custodial detention is largely contingent on a person’s criminal history. In addition, Prosecutor Carroll noted what ends up on a person’s past criminal history can be influenced by various personal challenges including poverty, substance abuse, mental health, unemployment, homelessness, and bad associations. All of these factors make the final sentencing decisions of our Judges very challenging.
“Going through those particular cases, we are convinced – and I am personally convinced – that there was not a racist discretion that was exercised,” Carroll said. “There are two things we have to focus on as prosecutors – we have an open-door policy, people coming in and not being afraid to bring in mitigating information. Information that allows us to make more informed judgments. Two, I think when we get the information, we have to be as fair as possible. We have instituted a multi-tier review process.”
While Prosecutor Carroll noted new changes to juvenile justice and the decriminalization of marijuana will reduce the number of minor convictions and factors contributing to disparity, the origins that motivate criminal behavior need to be strongly addressed.
Prosecutor Carroll added his office has a duty to listen to victims, to strike a balance between protecting the community and giving a defendant fair treatment.
Sgt. LaGuerre invited members of the community to utilize the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office open-door policy in cases where they have concerns.
“These disparities will not disappear overnight, but the programs we spoke of are phenomenal,” LaGuerre said.
First Assistant Prosecutor Calderwood said the MCPO also considers how the community is best served when evaluating cases, which could mean not pursuing incarceration for a defendant in order for them to keep their job or care for their children.
To view the entire virtual panel discussion, click here.