NEW JERSEY — The state Department of Corrections is readying to release certain inmates to home confinement as a means to curtail coronavirus.

State correctional facilities will provide “temporary emergency medical home confinement” and expedited parole for certain jailed people who have not committed what the state considers to be serious offenses, such as murder or sexual assault, Gov. Phil Murphy said at his daily press briefing Friday morning.

“A virus this virulent can spread rapidly in a densely populated prison setting and the needs of public safety and public health have to be balanced,” Murphy said.

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State Corrections Department Commissioner Marcus Hicks said prisoners to be considered for the special release include people who present a high risk for severe illness in death, those over 60 years old and inmates set to have their sentences to expire within six months.

“We don’t have an exact count of how many individuals this will impact as there may be duplication in the categories,” Hicks said. “But we will be working diligently to generate those lists to get this process started.”

In addition to noting thendeath of corrections officer Nelson Perdomo, 44, Hicks said 129 Corrections Department staff members have tested positive for coronavirus, 20 prisoners have tested positive, and one inmate has died from the virus. The Corrections Department has also quarantined 400 inmates, he said. As of 2019, 19,212 people incarcerated in state prisons, state figures show.

Citing numerous concerns reported to her from inmates and staff, NJ Spotlight reporter Colleen O’Dea raised questions about a lack of COVID-19 testing available at both prisons and state-run halfway houses.

Hicks replied the state has a process for prioritizing testing that involves contacting regional corrections department facilities. 

“Rutgers is our contracted medical provider so they’re responsible for all of our physical care, and so we work closely with them,” he added. Hicks said the state Health Department is also consulting with the Corrections Department on its decisions.

Across New Jersey, state officials reported Friday morning that 233 more people with COVID-19 had died bringing the death toll to 1,932 people. The state reported 3,627 more people tested positive for COVID-19 bringing the total number of cases to 54,588.

State Police Col. Pat Callahan reported Friday that the number of indictable offenses related to COVID-19 executive orders rose to 124. Since the day prior, he said, Newark Police issued 51 violations in connection with the executive order but did not have to shut down any businesses.

Murphy called the anticipated moves at prisons a “furlough” for the inmates.  

He said the release process will start in the next several days and there will be a seven-day time frame during which inmates released into home confinement are considered. He promised further reports on the prisoners’ release.

New Jersey will join the federal government, California, Illinois and several other states in releasing inmates due to COVID-19 concerns, Murphy said. New Jersey’s attorney general previously ordered that certain prisoners at county jails be released due to coronavirus concerns.

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