TRENTON – Responding to the shocking spread of COVID-19 through the state’s prison population, the Senate Commerce Committee passed legislation that would award certain inmates credits towards their sentence for time served during a Public Health Emergency.
Under the bill, S-2519, sponsored by Senators Nellie Pou and Sandra B. Cunningham, when a Public Health Emergency is declared due to a communicable or infectious disease, inmates that meet certain criteria would be awarded four months off their sentence for every month served during the emergency, with a maximum of eight months of awarded credit.
“New Jersey has failed its prison population throughout the pandemic,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic). “As the virus spread we were not flexible enough to keep the people in our custody safe and we all had to watch as those without freedom were knowingly put at risk. People in the state’s custody, however, have the same fundamental right to health and safety as everyone else in our society. If certain inmates are reasonably able to be released early, particularly those nearing the end of their sentences, it would not only give them security but it would thin the population inside the prisons, provide for a greater ability to socially distance, and keep everyone, guards included, safer.”
“The lags we have seen in inmate release since the Governor’s announcement in April is completely unacceptable,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “It is imperative we have a system in place to protect our prison population when we face public health emergencies to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Upon enactment, certain eligible inmates with less than 12 months to go on their sentence could be released under this bill. Sex offenders, however, who have been deemed to be repetitive and compulsive would not be eligible for credits under the bill. Also contained in the legislation are certain notice requirements and protections for identifiable victims.
The bill was released from committee in a bipartisan, unanimous vote.