New Jersey prisoners within a year of their release dates will once again be able to get out early due to the pandemic, according to the governor’s office.
Governor Phil Murphy’s re-declaration of a public health emergency this week also reactivated the state’s early release law that freed more than 5,300 people from prison early. The early releases stopped last October after Murphy ended the public health emergency.
“What we know about the last round is that they were exceptionally successful, people were able to return to families and communities without any increase in risk to public safety,” Alex Shalom, senior supervising attorney for the ACLU of New Jersey said. “We’re excited to see another round.”
The first-in-the-nation law allowed prisoners to accrue public health credits due to COVID-19 — similar to earning time off for good behavior — and slash up to eight months off their sentence. At the time, New Jersey’s prisons had one of the worst COVID-19 death rates.
Under the measure, the state’s prison population was reduced by 40%. WNYC/Gothamist also found that of the first 2,500 people released in late 2020, about 9% were re-incarcerated within a year. That’s lower than the state’s overall pre-pandemic, one-year recidivism rate of 16%, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a national criminal justice group based in New York.
It’s still unclear when the first group of people will be released, or how many. The Department of Corrections did not immediately return a request for comment.
COVID-19 cases have risen in state prisons since December, mirroring the spike happening statewide. State records show that as of January 7th, the COVID-19 positivity rate was 12% for inmates and 19% for staff – the highest rate for both groups since the department began keeping records in July 2020.
Murphy’s public health emergency will expire in a month, which could leave a small window for releases, unless he renews it for another 30 days.