New Jersey tops the nation for incarceration disparity, according to a new report from justice advocacy group The Sentencing Project.

That is to say for every one white prisoner in the Garden State, another 12 prisoners are black, the report says. That is the widest ratio among all the states. The average is about 5:1.

Using numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and census data, the report finds New Jersey is among a dozen states where blacks make up more than half of the prison population. In New Jersey, according to the report, one in every 31 black males is incarcerated.

No single reason could be offered for New Jersey's top-in-the-nation numbers, but the report points to three main contributors to racial disparities in prison:

  • Implicit bias and stereotypes
  • Policies and practices
  • Structural disadvantages in communities of color

"It's along the whole continuum of the system that we see disparity, and it mounts as individuals travel through the system," said Ashley Nellis, The Sentencing Group's senior research analyst.

State Senator Ron Rice (D-Essex), chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, said he's not shocked by New Jersey's ranking in the report. He suggested the disparity may worsen in 2017 when bail reform measures kick in for the state, mainly due to cost concerns.

"We're not going to have the resources, so as a result of that, it's going to create additional problems in terms of people being delayed and staying inside the institutions," Rice said. "The process is going to hold them up even more so."

The reforms allow judges to consider the risk a defendant may post to a community — and not just his or her flight risk — when setting bail. They also  give judges the ability to deny bail to certain offenders, and are meant to provide hearings for defendants within 48 hours of arrest.

Despite New Jersey's numbers, Nellis said, the Garden State serves as a good example of the positives of criminal justice reform.

"It's lowered its prison population by 28 percent since 2000," she said. "And the change in prison population seems to have benefited people of color the most."

The state has witnessed a 30 percent reduction in African American prisoners from 2000 to 2014, according to the report. The number of prisoners overall dropped by more than 8,000.

"With more time and continued focus on reforms, the racial disparities may continue to improve," the report stated.

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