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NJ order permits temporary release of county jail inmates to prevent spread of coronavirus

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said released inmates will need to comply with current stay-at-home orders and will have to complete their sentences once the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic concludes. – Photo by Wikimedia

New Jersey Chief Justice Stuart Rabner signed an order on Sunday that will result in approximately 1,000 people being released from county jails, beginning March 24, according to a press release. This will order for their temporary release during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

This order was an agreement among the Attorney General’s Office, the County Prosecutor’s Association, the Public Defender’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), according to the release.

This new measure was addressed during Monday’s press conference. Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.) said certain low-level offenders will be released to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within New Jersey’s correction system.

“I don’t know that there’s any other American state that’s done this,” he said.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said those serving county jail sentences have typically been sentenced as a condition of probation, for municipal court convictions or for fourth-degree and disorderly persons offenses.

“Under the process — which is a landmark process that we’ve established working with the public defender, with the Supreme Court, with other stakeholders — offenders will be released, unless there’s an individual-specific objection from a county prosecutor or from my office, in which case there will be a hearing on it,” he said.

Grewal said these individuals will need to comply with the current stay-at-home orders in effect and will have to complete their sentences once the COVID-19 public health emergency ends. He said inmates will also be connected to necessary resources they will need for life outside of the county jails.

“As I’ve mentioned just a moment ago, I’m a career prosecutor and I take no pleasure in temporarily releasing or suspending county jail sentences, even for the lowest level inmates that are contemplated by today’s consent order,” he said. “But this is the most significant public health crisis we are facing in our state’s history, and it’s forcing us to take actions that we wouldn’t consider during normal times.”

Grewal said they are taking drastic steps because they have seen how jails can be incubators for disease.

“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 of this state, including those serving county jail sentences,” he said.

State prosecutors are looking at public safety, public health and the rights of crime victims, among other things to decide which inmate releases they will object and consent to, Grewal said.

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