New Jersey reduced its prison population by 40% in the 11 months of the pandemic

With the spread of the coronavirus New Jersey prison system Last year, killing prisoners at the highest rate in the country in months, state leaders took an unprecedented step: They reduced the prison population by 40%.

“No other state has been able to accomplish what New Jersey has accomplished, making it a leader in removing cars in the country and I think this is a badge we should wear with honor,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU in New Jersey.

in october 2020, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law that allowed those within a year of their release To get out up to eight months early. The measure, the first of its kind in the country, eventually freed nearly 5,300 adults and juveniles from state custody over the past 11 months.

“The prison population in New Jersey has been reduced by law, reaching a level that hasn’t been there in decades, creating a much larger … population for the reform system,” said Todd Clare, a professor at Rutgers who specializes in criminal justice.

He said the prison population had fallen to numbers not seen since the 1980s. New Jersey was the most aggressive [state] It was the most expansive across the largest percentage of the population, Claire said.

Law It essentially accelerated earning “good time off” and giving people public health credits, or reductions in punishment due to the pandemic. Those who have been convicted of murder, first-degree sexual assault, or repeat sex offenders have not been identified. Under the law, the state warned local prosecutors about the release and prohibited former prisoners from contacting their victims.

“We’re talking about people who are going to be released anyway,” said Sinha, of the ACLU. Help find the measure. “If we have a system where the government is held accountable for the people in its custody, that means making sure that we give the people in prison the best chance of survival.”

Although there is no data yet on recidivism rates among those released early, Claire said several studies show that reducing an individual’s prison time by a few months does not affect recidivism. He said the percentage of people likely to be re-arrested remains the same, and that’s happening soon.

“This law didn’t change public safety at all,” Claire said. “All I did was move some arrests that would have happened earlier.”

But those releases have now stopped. When Murphy ended the state’s public health emergency this summer, he also ended the early release window. The last person was released early on October 4.

“It’s a moment in time and it’s gone, and New Jersey’s prison inmates are now working to rebuild themselves,” Claire said. “If people like fewer prisoners, we have the tools to do it: just make that law permanent.”

A report from the Department of Corrections Ombudsman’s office He said while the program was useful for reducing COVID-19 within the prison system, it should have applied to more people who have been quarantined or become ill with coronavirus and have release dates after the break.

The New Jersey DOC supervised about 18,000 people in its pre-pandemic regime. Spokeswoman Liz Velez said the population is now down to 10,800. She said 5,181 individuals were released between November 4, 2020 and October 4, 2021. A spokesperson for the Juvenile Justice Commission said 109 juveniles were released under the measure.

Martin Fitzgerald, 51, was among the first people released from state custody under the program last November, along with more than 2,000 others. It was the largest one-day launch of any prison system in the country, according to Clear.

Fitzgerald now lives in a house in Highland Park and works as a meat clerk at a wholesale store.

“You work, and you stay out of trouble. You do all the right things and things are in the pipeline for you or fall into place,” Fitzgerald said in a recent interview. For now, I should be thankful.”

He was recently promoted to a full-time job and got a raise. He’s spent the past year paying off student loans and some outstanding parking tickets. He passed his driver’s license test and recently got a car.

“When it comes to people going home, they want to land where Martin is, they want to go home, they want to go to work, they want to throw some of their dreams into the sky, and then they want to go back to where Martin is, and they want to go home, they want to go to work, they want to throw some of their dreams into heaven, and then they want to,” said Amos Kaley, a Save and Social Justice co-organizer and a pastor at the Reformed Church. In Highland Park, “You just chase those things and they don’t want to fall in their faces.”

Callie met Fitzgerald a year ago when he was struggling to refill his prescription at the local pharmacy. Through his church and organization, Callie gave Fitzgerald a suit for a job interview, as well as shoes for work, and helped him secure an affordable room.

“You actually give someone a chance, they make something out of their life when they come home, they’re going to take that chance,” Callie said.

But even so New country rules To provide more support to the released people, on the same day Fitzgerald was released, some of the former prisoners were dropped off at transit stations often Without the Promised Country ID Crucial to renting an apartment, securing benefits or getting a job. There were those who did not know where to go or how to find their loved ones.

Fitzgerald was one of the lucky ones who had a family waiting for him on the other side. He said that the past year is still difficult. He is looking for another quieter and more spacious place to live, with fewer roommates.

“You don’t want to live in a place where people do stupid things,” he said.

He found an apartment that was promising until the owner did a background check – and he refused. while a New state law prohibits landlords from checking a person’s criminal record Even after the tenant is conditionally approved, this law won’t take effect until January.

“I think people are not very forgiving when it comes to those of us who have been incarcerated,” Fitzgerald said. “Even though we paid our debts to society.”

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