Eligible prisoners who appear to be infected are still able to leave - Prisoners who don't want to leave may be forced out - Domestic Violence victims to be notified of Early Release
NEW JERSEY, NJ - Thousands of men and women who were sentenced to jail are becoming eligible to be released to New Jersey streets. The reason cited is the virulent nature of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in New Jersey prisons. The American Civil Liberties Union as well as Public Defenders groups were involved in the initiative. A consent order signed by Justice Rabner this week is what allows the State of New Jersey to initiate a process to release prisoners to the streets of New Jersey. County jail sentences of a year or less for fourth degree offenses or disorderly persons offenses are eligible.
The actions are receiving national attention.
Victims of violent crime will be notified of early release. County Prosecutors can also demand individual hearings which would be decided by a Special Master. Gruwal said he took 'no pleasure' in it but thought it necessary. The prisoners need to be collected and placed back in prison after the virus ends. That is, unless they don't. The ruling leaves it up to others. Prisoners could opt out since they are already in a room with food and medical care. However, based on the ruling, they can be forced out anyway. If this appears to be contradictory, the language, in part, is below:
All inmates being released from county jails are encouraged to self-quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days. Unless otherwise ordered by the judge(s) or Special Master(s), any inmate being released from a county jail who appears to be symptomatic for COVID-19 is ordered to self-quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days and follow all applicable New Jersey Department of Health protocols for testing, treatment, and quarantine or isolation.
County Prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies shall, to the extent practicable, provide notice to victims of the accelerated release of inmates.
In cases involving domestic violence, notification shall be made. N.J.S.A. 2C:25-26.1. Law enforcement shall contact the victim using the information provided on the “Victim Notification Form.” Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2005-5. Where the information provided on the “Victim Notification Form” does not allow for victim contact, the Prosecutor shall notify the Attorney General.
If the Attorney General, or his designee, is convinced that law enforcement has exhausted all reasonable efforts to contact the victim, he may relax the obligations under N.J.S.A. 2C:25-26.1.
In other cases with a known victim, law enforcement shall make all reasonable efforts to notify victims of the inmate’s accelerated release.
To the extent permitted by law, the Attorney General agrees to relax limitations on benefits under the Violent Crimes Compensation Act (N.J.S.A. 52:4B-1, et seq.) to better provide victims who encounter the need for safety, health, financial, mental health or legal assistance from the State Victims of Crime Compensation Office.
"All these individuals will have to comply with the same stay at home orders that are in effect right now." Stated Gruwal. "They'll have to complete their sentences when our public health emergency concludes. The order also creates a process to ensure that inmates who are being released have a safe place to go and that we connect inmates with the necessary help they need outside the wall, whether its medical treatment or shelter or other housing services."
There was no financial estimate on outplacement services provided by Gruwal or to what extent he expected additional impact on law enforcement outside 'the wall."
"I'm a career prosecutor and I take no pleasure in temporarily releasing or suspending county jail sentences." Stated Gruwal, "even for the lowest level inmates that are contemplated by todays consent order but this is the most significant public health crisis we've faced in our states history. When this pandemic concludes I need to be able to look my daughters' in their eyes to say that we took every step possible to help all the residents in this state, including those serving county jail sentences." Stated Grewal.
Ironically, the court order may have the opposite effect and increase COVID-19 community spread by releasing infected prisoners during the pandemic with little job prospects and possibly against their will. You can read the order verbatim HERE
Notably absent from the press conference (see video below), was confirmation that prisoners were to be tested prior to release. Medical professionals state that you can be infected with no symptoms and create community spread. Ironically, the goal of 'reducing community spread' may increase it as prisoners can be forced out of prison, against their stated wishes, infected with COVID-19.
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