COVID-19 has drastically affected everyone, with some communities and institutions being hit harder than most. One of these institutions is the New Jersey prison system. In fact, according to The Marshall Project, New Jersey prisons have the highest death rate in the nation. In order to rectify this, new legislature has been passed, releasing some inmates early. This will allow for social distancing behind bars, protecting prisoners, staff, and local community members. Read on to learn about the new law and who is eligible for early release.
What is Happening in NJ Prisons?
New Jersey prisons have been a hotspot for coronavirus. A crowded prison does not allow for much social distancing, resulting in a high number of cases and deaths. At the time of this writing, at least 52 prisoners, two corrections officers, and one prison nurse have passed away from COVID-19. Coronavirus in prisons is dangerous for everyone. Inmates spread the virus to each other, resulting in preventable deaths. Additionally, prison staff who contract the virus may bring it home to their families, further spreading COVID-19 to local New Jersey communities.
Who is Eligible for Early Release?
Both adult and juvenile prisoners with one year or less left on their sentences are now eligible for early release. Parolees may also have their parole reduced. The new law can knock up to eight months off a sentence. Prisoners will have about four months knocked off their sentence for every month spent behind bars amidst a public health crisis. Because the law refers to a “public health emergency” and not COVID-19 specifically, the law could kick in again in the event of another infectious disease that substantially impacts the prison system. This new legislature will not apply to anyone convicted of murder, aggravated sexual assault, and “repetitive, compulsive” sex offenders. It is also important to note that the law will not apply to those in federal prisons or county jail.
When Will Inmates be Released?
The law took effect November 4, and early release will continue on a rolling basis for as long as the pandemic continues. Officials have released around 2, 261 adults, 50 juveniles, and plan to release 1,000 more people through January. Approximately 1,388 parolees will no longer have supervision as well. November 4, 2020 constituted the largest single-day release of inmates in recent NJ history.
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