20% Of New Jersey Prisoners Could Be Set Free Under New Bill; Ocean County Sheriff Shares Concerns

The New Jersey Legislature is set to vote on a bill which, if approved, would potentially allow thousands of inmates in state prisons go free early during a public health emergency.

The bill, introduced as the Public Health Emergency Credit Bill, will apply credits during a public health emergency declared by the Governor to inmates who are due to be released within a year.

If signed by the Governor, the bill could immediately affect more than 3,000 of the over 16,600 prisoners serving time in state jails, or over 20% of the current prison population.

The credits will reduce sentences, including minimum sentences, by four months for each month of the declared state of emergency, with a maximum sentence reduction of eight months. The legislation will apply to adults and juveniles with under a year left to serve, with an exception for those convicted of certain heinous crimes and receiving treatment for compulsive and repetitive behavior.

The bill, which is being supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and many Republican Legislators as well, also had some support from Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, who told The Lakewood Scoop in an interview that prisoners would have to be “properly vetted.”

“Obviously the concern is with who they are letting out,” Mastronardy told TLS. “There would have to be safeguards to ensure they are properly vetted. The ultimate goal is what is the safest thing for the community, whether it be with the pandemic or with public safety, and that has to the primary concern for the residents of the state,” he added.

Under an amendment passed Thursday, victims or their families would be notified of an early release prior to the prisoner being set free.

Another amendment added Thursday requires the courts enter an order prohibiting freed inmates from having contact with the victim.
According to the ACLU-NJ, people who are incarcerated in New Jersey prisons and jails have died from COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other prison system in the country.

“The only way to protect as many lives as we can is to drastically reduce the prison population as quickly as possible, and the lawmakers who voted unanimously to send this bill to the floor have taken an important step toward that important goal,” ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo said in a statement.

Under an Executive Order signed by Governor Murphy in April, nearly 800 inmates have been freed from New Jersey state prisons.

The bill, also known as S2519, was approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee and will now head to the full Senate and Assembly for a vote. It is not clear if Governor Phil Murphy will sign it.

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  1. It makes sense to me, you have to let out convicted criminals to make room for small business owners that defy the Governor Knuckleheads orders and try to make a living and saving their businesses.

    This craziness has to stop!

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