Monday, March 23, 2020

New Jersey releases jail inmates in the face of pandemic

On Sunday, March 22, New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner signed an order that had been negotiated by criminal justice stakeholders, including the ACLU-NJ. All people serving sentences in county jails across the state are subject to the order, although prosecutors can challenge the release of specific individuals where they contend there exist significant risks to the person being released or to public safety. The order could impact up to 1,000 people incarcerated in county jails.
The order (PDF) does not commute people’s sentences, but instead orders their temporary release during the COVID-19 public health crisis. At the conclusion of the emergency, judges will determine whether any sentences should be commuted. The Order takes extraordinary steps to prevent unnecessary incarceration or superfluous interactions with the criminal justice system altogether during this time, such as suspending most outstanding warrants and preventing in-person reporting to probation officers.
The order coincides with heroic efforts from the Office of the Public Defender to secure the release of many of their clients from pretrial detention in county jails. The efforts of public defenders have been met with success in many counties due to the defenders’ tireless work, as well as prosecutors’ understanding of the practical benefits of reducing jail populations by reconsidering requests for pretrial detention in this unprecedented time.
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