More than 2,200 prisoners in New Jersey were released today under a new law to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The inmates were released under a new law passed by the state legislature in September, that awards inmates within a year of release up to eight months off their sentences in “public health emergency credits” for serving time during the coronavirus crisis or a future public health crisis like it, CNN reports.
More than 1,000 others will be released in the next few months, cutting the state’s prison population by more than a third, reports the New York Times.
Prisoners serving time for murder or aggravated assault and those deemed “repetitive, compulsive sex offenders” are not eligible for early release under the law.
“Since March, the population in State correctional facilities has decreased by nearly 3,000 people (16%), including more than 1,200 people who were released under Executive Order 124. This dramatic reduction has allowed for critical social distancing as part of the fight against COVID-19,” said Democrat Governor Phil Murphy in a press release, after signing the bill into law.
This is the first bill of its kind in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Assemblyman Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican minority leader, said he opposed the bill because it included people convicted of certain violent crimes and left too many questions unanswered, The New York Times reported.
“The legislation is way too broad for me to give my rubber stamp,” Mr. Bramnick said. “Is the public aware of who is being released and where they are going?
“New Jersey has recorded one of the highest Covid-19 death per capita rates in the country, with 52 inmates deaths in New Jersey correctional facilities since the beginning of the pandemic,” according to CNN.
Its state correctional facilities have reported Covid-19 cases totaling more than 3,000 inmates and over 1,000 Corrections employees, according to NJDOC data.
“The spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey’s prisons, and our highest-in-the-nation death rate, has been a matter of public health, a matter of racial justice, and a matter of life and death,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey in a statement.
“The deaths from COVID-19 in prison were preventable — and, fortunately, with the signing of this bill into law, New Jersey has taken steps to prevent more unnecessary deaths. This law serves as a roadmap for the rest of the nation to avoid the devastation we have seen here.”