Thousands of NJ prisoners released due to COVID-19 concerns

New Jersey let thousands of inmates nearing the end of their sentences out of prison on Wednesday in order to ease the coronavirus pandemic issues inside the state’s prisons.

However, while prisoner’s rights advocates are praising the decision, many critics say it is a mistake.

The New Jersey State Prison System was at the top of an inmate coronavirus fatality list compiled by The Marshall Project, a prisoner’s rights advocacy group

The high rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths prompted the State Assembly to pass an early release bill for inmates who had less than a year left on their sentences for a wide range of crimes, including serious felonies. 

“It allowed them to be able to reduce their stay for health reasons by four months from the time of which they were actually going to be released from prison,” said State Senator Nellie Pou. 

A spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Corrections told FOX 5 NY that there is now widespread COVID-19 testing in the state’s prison system. 

But the bill’s critics say they question the wisdom of releasing over 2,250 inmates when the pandemic is still such a threat and resources are already stretched thin.

“Respect what these criminals have done as far as putting time in, but not release them into the general public until such time as we can ensure their safety, the safety of the public and more importantly that the victims are onboard with this program,” said State Assemblyman Kevin Rooney.

Another 1,000 prisoners are scheduled to be released between now and January. Assemblyman Rooney says he hopes victims and their families will be notified of the early releases, while Sen. Pou says the Department of Corrections has been coordinating with non-profit re-entry agencies to make the transition safe for the inmates and the community. 

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