Lesniak-Cunningham Bill Would Aid Inmate Reentry

New Jersey Senate Chambers

Non-Violent Offenders with Clean Prison Records Would Be Paroled At First Eligibility

 TRENTON –  Inmates incarcerated for non-violent offenses and clean prison records would be paroled at their first eligibility date, under terms of legislation (S-677) sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) that was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

“Administrative delays and poor institutional organization often mean that non-violent offenders who have served their time can remain needlessly warehoused in prisons even after they become eligible for parole,” said Senator Lesniak. “This can actually hurt their chances at successful reintegration by delaying their reintegration with families and into their home communities. This doesn’t serve their best interests or the best interests of society.”

The bill would wave the requirement for a formal parole hearing at the time of “primary parole eligibility” for non-violent offenders who had not committed sex crimes and who had no disciplinary infractions while serving their required sentences.

“By ensuring the legitimate release of nonviolent offenders who focused on rehabilitation and good behavior during their sentence, this bill would provide an incentive for good conduct and cooperation with treatment recommendations,” said Senator Cunningham. “It would also help reduce the size of the prison population, and prevent the wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money on those who pose no threat to public safety.”

An inmate released on parole pursuant to the bill’s provisions would, during the term of parole supervision, remain in the legal custody of the Commissioner of Corrections and be supervised by the Division of Parole of the State Parole Board.

Over the last three decades, New Jersey has seen a dramatic increase in the use of prisons for nonviolent offenses. Thirty years ago, the state prison population was just under 8,000. Today, that number exceeds 23,000. During this time, annual corrections spending has increased from $289 million to more than $1 billion. This bill would help ensure that our prisons spend more of their resources housing the inmates that need to be there, not those that no longer need to be, senators Lesniak and Cunningham said.

The bill was approved 8 – 3 – 1.