TRENTON — New Jersey could create a statewide database of arrest warrants available to the public, though the idea concerns criminal justice and immigration reform groups worried that she is abused.
The idea behind the bill, A634, is to reduce the likelihood of a person not even realizing they are subject to a warrant, which could be for things like unpaid traffic fines. , until she was apprehended by a police officer.
But Yannick Wood, director of the criminal justice reform program for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said “there are so many privacy concerns,” even though he means well.
“While it makes sense that people can freely access their own mandate information, the fact that this information is available to everyone could be a recipe for discrimination,” he said. “For example, if an employer or landlord accesses this information, someone could lose their job or their home even though this warrant was issued in error.”
The bill would be searchable, perhaps providing results with as little as a name and address.
“We just don’t want everyone to have access to this incomplete information that might cause people to be vigilant or try to act on this incomplete information,” Wood said.
Wood said it makes sense for people to have free access to their own warrant information — through a secure verification process that only the person subject to the warrant can use. He suggested that maybe someone should join the system, or at least have the option of opting out.
“We believe sensitive information should be handled with sensitivity,” he said.
The bill is not new. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, first introduced it in February 2012 and has reintroduced it in every legislative session since. It hadn’t gotten a vote from the committee in its first decade-plus until last week.
The Assembly’s Law and Public Safety Committee approved the bill unanimously and without debate or testimony, although three people – including Wood – indicated their opposition. Other opponents included the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice and Wind of the Spirit.
The bill was referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration before it could be voted on by the Full Assembly.
It should also be taken up in the Senate, where there is still no accompanying law.
Michael Symons is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at email@example.com
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