Prison Reform Bills Will Offer Early Release, End Mandatory Minimum Sentences

Colleen O’Dea | August 3, 2020 | NJ Spotlight |

New Jersey lawmakers have passed several bills meant to improve elements of criminal justice system, such as sentencing, incarceration and policing

As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the country and New Jersey advocates continue to call for reform here, lawmakers have approved more than a dozen bills that seek to improve many levels of criminal justice, from policing to sentencing to incarceration.

Several of the measures passed last Thursday also were inspired by lawmakers’ unhappiness with how fast and how many inmates were given temporary release to control the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and halfway houses, where 49 already have died and about 2,900 have been infected. New Jersey continues to have the highest rate of prisoners who have died of the virus of any state, 29 per 10,000, according to The Marshall Project.

To date, the state has released 566 individuals on parole and 301 on emergency medical home confinement under an emergency order from Gov. Phil Murphy, though some of these individuals may have been returned to confinement for violating their release terms. The number of inmates allowed out as of last Thursday represents only a third of those eligible who sought consideration for release.

“Especially now, during this health crisis, we have to find ways of decreasing the prison population and lessening the chance for the continued spread of COVID-19,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union), sponsor of one of the measures.

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