NJ to Mass Release Inmates on November 4

 In opinion, Politics

NJ is set to mass release inmates on November 4, after a new law signed by Gov Phil Murphy designed to reduce the prison population due to COVID-19. An estimated 2,088 prison inmates will be released, with about 1,000 more in the weeks through January. In addition, around 1,388 persons will have their supervision end. It will reduce the prison population by about 20%. (Governor’s office statement)

“Reducing our prison population will undoubtedly further our mission to combat COVID-19… and allow for even more social distancing.” Gov Phil Murphy

More early releases are expected as long as the “health emergency” remains in effect. Juvenile and adult inmates that have less than 12 months of their sentences left are eligible for the early release program. Supposedly those convicted of murder and aggravated sexual assault are not eligible…but in other states where early release was tried, some inmates committed crimes within days of release (NBC).

The New Jersey law is slightly different than other states, in that inmates can have their sentences reduced because of the pandemic, according to the ACLU.

“If we can enhance public health and safety by releasing eligible prisoners who are getting out anyway, we can effectively help reduce the spread of the virus in these facilities and reduce risk to the community upon their release.”  Joint statement of  Democrats in the NJ Assembly – Raj Mukherji, Shavonda Sumter and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson

But does this action actually reduce the risk of actual danger to communities? Does it help with the homeless population? What about the risk of COVID-19 to the  community at large? Overwhelming the probation/parole and advocacy agencies is foolish. At least 800 of those released will be on parole.

According to Blake Nelson and Matt Arco at NJ.com, 243 of those to be released do not have a safe place to go and are in need of housing. Their article reads in part:

“We’ve been working closely with our department of corrections and the state parole board, as well as nonprofits and advocacy groups to ensure that inmates will have access to housing and social services,” Murphy lawyer Parimal Garg said Monday during the governor’s coronavirus press briefing in Trenton.

Murphy added that housing was one part of a broader effort to help people reenter society.

“You cut down dramatically on recidivism, you cut down dramatically on life’s challenges if you’ve got a plan that’s wholistic, including where somebody’s gonna live,” Murphy said. “Recidivism” is when somebody convicted of a crime breaks the law again.
The majority of people set to be released Nov. 4 will not be under state supervision, meaning more could be at risk of homelessness. Reentry organization, churches and other groups have been preparing for weeks to help.
Helping those convicted of crimes reenter society is a good thing, as the First Step Act attempts to do. But a mass release of inmates poses some serious problems.
Featured photo: Governor Phil Murphy Screenshot from YouTube
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