New Jersey corrections facilities have recently released 852 more inmates to ease crowding during the COVID-19 pandemic under a law passed in 2020.
The Public Health Emergency Credits law, passed in October 2020, gives eligible prisoners 122 days of credits for each month spent in correction facilities.
The New Jersey Department of Corrections has released more than 6,000 inmates early under the law, which has reduced the prison population by 40%. To be eligible, prisoners must be within a year of their ordinary release date. Inmates convicted of violent crimes or sex crimes are not eligible to receive credits.
According to Democrat Governor Phil Murphy, the legislation was intended to reduce both the spread of COVID-19 and the prison population.
“At its heart, the public health emergency credits law is not a pandemic policy,” the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey stated. “It’s a policy about humanity.”
However, the New Jersey Law Enforcement Supervisors Association, a union that represents correctional officers, said the law threatens public safety.
“The governor’s actions are not making New Jersey’s streets, towns and cities any safer,” union president William Lanoza said. “In fact, the murder rate in New Jersey climbed 23% in 2021, reaching the highest it has been since 2016. The vast majority of inmates that are being released under this legislation are being bussed to our state’s urban centers and thereafter left to themselves.”
In addition, lawmakers like Senator Joseph Pennacchio accused the governor of using the pandemic as a means for releasing more inmates.
Others believe the public health emergency is over and things should go back to normal.
“The health emergency is over, so it doesn’t make sense to continue releasing prisoners early,” Assemblywoman Marilyn Piperno said. “This entire program was supposed to limit the spread of COVID, but it failed, and crime has skyrocketed the past two years.”
Prisoners are no longer allowed to receive additional credits since the governor allowed the public health emergency to expire on March 14.