Assembly bill seeks to stop COVID-19 spread in state prisons

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji sponsored legislation that would allow certain inmates early release

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson)
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Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson)

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in New Jersey’s prisons due to overcrowding, legislation that would require public health emergency credits to be awarded to certain inmates during a public health emergency has cleared an Assembly panel.

Inmates with COVID-19

The bill was sponsored by Assembly members Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic) and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon).

The credits would be awarded if a public health emergency is declared by the governor as a result of communicable or infectious disease. It would result in the modification of correctional facility operations.

“Our prison system has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Mukherji and the other bill sponsors said in a joint statement. “Inmates have been afflicted at a particularly alarming rate due to the inability to quarantine or practice social distancing, creating a higher risk for individuals and the community at large upon their release.”

According to the NJ Department of Corrections, there have been 781 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, and 2,777 inmates. Forty-eight inmates have died across the state.

The closest state prison to Hudson County is Northern State in Newark. At Northern State, 142 staff members have fallen sick and 210 inmates, according to the NJDOC. Nine inmates died from the virus.

The proposed credits are intended to help expedite the release of inmates who are approaching the end of their sentences.

“If we can enhance public health and safety by releasing eligible prisoners who are getting out anyway, we can effectively help reduce the spread of the virus in these facilities and reduce risk to the community upon their release,” according to the sponsors’ joint statement.

Under the bill, credits would be awarded to an inmate in the custody of the Department of Corrections who is serving a sentence or receiving jail credits applicable to the sentence.

The credits would provide further remission from both the maximum and minimum term of the inmate’s sentence at the rate of six months for each month served during the declared emergency. A maximum of up to 12 months of remission could be awarded for any declared emergency period.

Awarding of public health emergency credits would not limit or affect an inmate’s eligibility for parole consideration.

The bill will now go to the Speaker for further consideration.

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