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Second Chance NJ Conference

On June 3, 2024, a coalition of advocates, faith leaders, policymakers, and family of incarcerated people gathered to learn more about the need for sentencing relief for senior citizens. Check out some of the highlights below.

The conference opened with an address from Jonathan Koppell, president of Montclair State University, speaking on the need for Second Chances in New Jersey's criminal legal system. President Koppell also affirmed the role of educational institutions, like MSU, in curating dialogue around important issues like this one.

NJ Attorney General Matthew Platkin spoke about the importance of coalition building around criminal justice issues. 


"This is the vision that we are all working towards—building a New Jersey that is safe, restorative, and one filled with opportunity. While we have laid the groundwork for new approaches, we have a lot left to be done. So, we have to keep trying, and keep innovating."

NJ Public Defender Jennifer Sellitti delivered a powerful presentation, demonstrating the deep need for compassionate sentencing and resentencing policy. 

"We're continuing to punish elders and aging people who have spent very long periods of time in prison for sins they committed [when they were much younger] And I don't think any one of us can say that we are the same person that we were 20 or 30 years ago."

A power panel of experts, who experienced first-hand the challenges of aging in prison, offered stirring testimonies about the desperate need for Second Look policy.

Dawud Muhammad:


"On the inside, they're only interested in what you did; they're not looking at who you are. And most people that committed a crime -- that's not who they are; that's something they did at one time. There's always room for change."

Lee Holmes:


"I can barely walk. And had I got the medical attention I should have gotten, it wouldn't be this bad."

Rev. Russell Owens:


"You're put in a situation where there's no hope. A lot of us, at the beginning of our sentence, we didn't see no daylight. I didn't know how I was ever going to make it out of there. I didn't see this moment -- here, today -- but I dreamed about it."

Rev. Dr. Charles Boyer, founder of Salvation and Social Justice, gave an inspiring invocation about the urgency of this issue:

"I pray, sisters and brothers, I pray that we fight like hell to get our people home, that are aging in these God-forsaken places."

Participants attended two sessions of workshops throughout the day.

Topics included:

  • Victim Perspectives

  • Reentry Considerations

  • Storytelling Strategies

  • Faith Community Engagement

  • Digital Communication Techniques

  • Resentencing for Violent Crimes

Shawn Weneta from REFORM Alliance gave a presentation on Second Chance legislative advocacy in Virginia, and then convened a Policymaker Panel, with participation from:


Daniel Sperrazza, Executive Director for the NJ Department of Corrections


John Butler, Senior Policy Advisor to Governor Phil Murphy


Asw. Jessica Ramirez, NJ District 32, sponsor for the Rehabilitative Release bill (A4463)

The program ended with a call to action, led by Jared Hunter and Racquel Romans-Henry, from Salvation and Social Justice. Participants were encouraged to sign the Second Look NJ Petition and raise awareness of the legislative campaign to support S2338/A4463, the Rehabilitative Release bill.

Please enjoy this gallery of photos taken during the Second Chance NJ Conference!

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