Trenton, NJ – New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed off on a bill that will release thousands of inmates early beginning the day after Election Day.
Murphy endorsed the legislation on Oct. 19, paving the way for an estimated 2,088 prisoners to walk out of prison on Nov. 4, NJ Advance Media reported.
About 1,000 more inmates are set to be released ahead of schedule through January of 2021.
The early releases are expected to reduce the state’s prison population by as much as 20 percent, The New York Times reported.
Murphy said in a statement that turning thousands of prisoners out onto the streets early will help “combat COVID-19” by allowing “for even more social distancing.”
Only about 800 of the inmates slated to be released on Nov. 4 will transition onto parole, Murphy’s office told NJ Advance Media.
Over 240 of those being granted parole don’t have a safe residence to go to after their release, but the governor’s office said it has been “working closely” with parole officials, nonprofits, and advocacy groups “to ensure that inmates will have access to housing and social services.”
Under the new law, juvenile and adult inmates who have less than 12 months of their sentences left to serve are eligible to be released as much as eight months early, NJ Advance Media reported.
Sex offenders will be eligible for early release if they have not been determined to have committed “repetitive, compulsive” acts, according to the news outlet.
Inmates convicted of murder or aggravated sexual assault will be ineligible under the new law.
In addition to releasing convicted inmates early, offenders who are serving parole will also have the opportunity to have their time reduced, NJ Advance Media reported.
About 1,388 parolees will be done with community supervision altogether on Nov. 4, Murphy’s office said.
New Jersey is the first state to establish a new law in order to reduce inmates’ sentences due to COVID-19, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey told NJ Advance Media.
The Assembly version of the legislation was sponsored by Senators Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Shavonda Sumter, and Raj Mukherji, all of whom are Democrats.
“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,” the trio said in a joint statement regarding the bill.
Senator Nellie Pou, who also sponsored the legislation, said the bill “will go a long way in protecting the state’s prison population,” Murphy’s office noted in a press release.
“People in the state’s custody have the same fundamental right to health and safety as everyone else in our society,” Pou declared. “Given that certain inmates are reasonably able to be released early, particularly those nearing the end of their sentences, this legislation not only gives them security but it will thin the population inside the prisons, more easily provide for social distancing, and keep everyone, including corrections officers, safer.”
The mass releases come just months after approximately 1,500 additional inmates were released early due to an April executive order and a legal challenge involving county jails, The New York Times reported.
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, our administration has worked tirelessly to save as many lives as possible and to stem the spread of COVID-19,” Murphy said in the press release. “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.”
Murphy abruptly walked out of a press conference on Wednesday after learning that he had been exposed to a senior staff member who recently tested positive for the novel coronavirus, FOX News reported.
The governor said he tested negative on Monday and Wednesday, but that he would be self-quarantining as a precaution.
“Out of an abundance of caution and in line with the highest levels of commitment to protecting public health, the Governor and First Lady will be canceling their in-person events and voluntarily quarantining through the end of the weekend, and each will take an additional COVID-19 test before the resume any in-person engagements,” Murphy’s Communications Director, Mahen Gunaratna, told FOX News in a statement.