Legislature Passes Pou-Cunningham Bill to Award Time ‘Credits’ to Inmates During Public Health Emergency
Trenton – Legislation sponsored by Senators Nellie Pou and Sandra Cunningham to award inmates credit towards their sentence for time served during a Public Health Emergency was passed by the Senate today and now goes to the Governor for final approval.
Under the bill, S-2519, when a Public Health Emergency is declared due to a communicable or infectious disease, inmates, including juveniles and parolees, that meet certain criteria would be awarded four months off their sentence for every month served during the emergency, with a maximum of eight months of awarded credit.
“New Jersey has failed its prison population throughout the pandemic,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic). “As the virus spread we were not flexible enough to keep the people in our custody safe. We heard heartbreaking testimony from family members of inmates who died from COVID-19 while in our custody because health needs were denied and social distancing was not possible. People in the state’s custody, however, have the same fundamental right to health and safety as everyone else in our society. If certain inmates are reasonably able to be released early, particularly those nearing the end of their sentences, it would not only give them security but it would thin the population inside the prisons, provide for a greater ability to socially distance, and keep everyone, guards included, safer.”
“The lags we have seen in inmate release since the Governor’s announcement in April is completely unacceptable,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “New Jersey has the highest rate of inmate deaths due to COVID-19 in the nation, while only 360 out of 3,000 potentially eligible prisoners were released following the Governor’s executive order. It is imperative we have a stronger system in place to protect our prison population when we face public health emergencies to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
Any inmate serving a sentence for murder or aggravated sexual assault and any sex offender found to be repetitive and compulsive would be barred from eligibility for credits under the bill. Also contained in the legislation are certain notice requirements and protections for identifiable victims.
Inmates would receive crucial information about reentry services, including housing, job training, and employment opportunities, along with other social services.
The bill would take effect on the sixteenth day following enactment and the state would be required to take any anticipatory action necessary to implement the bill.
The bill was approved by the Senate by a vote of 22-15 and by the Assembly by a vote of 41-33 and now goes to the Governor for final approval.