Mukherji’s Inmate Public Health Credit Bill Up For Assembly Vote, GOP Chair Arango Against It

A strictly partisan piece of legislation, prime sponsored by Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-District 33), is up for a vote in the New Jersey Assembly later this week.  The bill, A4235, is a public health credit measure which would give credits, during a public health emergency, to most inmates and parolees nearing the end of their sentences.  The legislation, which is prime sponsored in the New Jersey Senate by Sandra Cunningham (D-District 31), if signed into law, would reduce sentences by up to eight months.

The legislation also prohibits contact with the victim upon release of inmate awarded credits.  Assemblywomen Annette Chaparro (D-District 33) and Angela McKnight (D-District 31) are co-sponsors.

The Office of Legislative Services concludes in its summary review of the legislation that “accelerating the release date of certain inmates and juvenile offenders and reducing the parole term of certain parolees by up to eight months by awarding them public health emergency credits could lower the operating expenditures of the Department of Corrections (DOC), the State Parole Board (SPB), and the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) during times when a public health emergency is declared.  However, the OLS is unable to quantify the savings from housing an offender or supervising parolees for a reduced period of time due to lack of sufficient data.  The OLS lacks sufficient information to quantify the overall fiscal impact as it is unclear as to how many offenders and parolees would be impacted by the provisions of this bill, and the frequency of such widespread infectious diseases resulting in a public health emergency cannot be accurately forecast.  In general, however, the bill should result in lower State operating expenses during times when a public health emergency is declared. The OLS concurs with the DOC that the State may incur some cost for COVID-19 testing under the provisions of the bill.  However, the OLS is unable to project the number of inmates who would be eligible for early release and need testing.”

The OLS goes on to say, “that accelerating the release date of certain inmates and juvenile offenders and reducing the parole term of certain parolees by up to eight months by awarding them public health emergency credits could lower the operating expenditures of the DOC, the JJC, and the SPB during times when a public health emergency is declared.  However, the OLS is unable to quantify the likely reduction in housing costs due to lack of sufficient information and the unpredictability of the frequency of such widespread infectious diseases.  Data obtained from the DOC indicate that the average annual cost to house an inmate in a State prison facility during FY 2019 totaled $50,191. However, this total savings would not be realized unless the population declines by a number large enough for the DOC to lower bed space capacity and reduce its fixed costs.  Savings to be generated by a small number of inmates released early from State prison and not reducing bed spaces would total $8.60 per day or $2,064 for a maximum credit of eight months per inmate in marginal costs for food, wages and clothing.

The State may receive revenue from additional fines and penalties imposed on individuals convicted of the new crime established by the bill.  An inmate or juvenile who purposely or knowingly violates a “no contact” order is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree.  A crime of the fourth degree is punishable by imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.  However, it is not possible to forecast the number of offenders likely to violate the “no contact” order. The OLS also notes that many fines go unpaid because of the financial condition of the offenders.

The OLS concurs with the DOC that the State may incur some cost for COVID-19 testing. Under the provisions of the bill and subject to the availability of DOC testing resources,  the DOC is required to test an inmate for COVID-19 prior to release following an award of public health emergency credits. The OLS is unable to project the number of inmates who would need testing due to early release from public health emergency credits during the current pandemic or what kind of testing would be needed in the future in case of a pandemic.”

The bill does not sit well with former Hudson County Assemblyman Jose Arango, the Chairman of the County’s Republican Party.  In a communication with Hudson TV earlier today, Arango said as many as 3,000 inmates could be released up to eight months before their sentences were completed, even though the Office of Legislative Services, as quoted above, says it cannot predict how many inmates would “be eligible for early release and need testing.”

Arango did list the types of offenses that would qualify under this proposed bill, but again, these examples are not listed in the bill.  He said, “Sample of Offenses that Qualify:

·       Murder (N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3)
·       Aggravated assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)
·       Kidnapping (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1)
·       Luring a child (N.J.S.A. 2C:13-6)
·       Sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2)
·       Aggravated sexual assault (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2(a)
·       Criminal sexual contact (N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3)
·       Endangering the welfare of a child (N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4)
·       Leader of a child pornography network (N.J.S.A. 2C:24-4.1)
·       Endangering an Injured Victim. N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1.2(d)
·       Endangering another Person N.J.S.A. 2C:24-7.1
·       Kidnapping a Minor and Homicide. N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1
·       Witness Tampering. N.J.S.A. 2C:28-5
·       Violation of a Protective Order Prohibiting Witness Tampering. N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4.1
·       Solicitation of Street Gang Members. N.J.S.A. 2C:33-28
·       Gang Criminality. N.J.S.A. 2C:33-29
·       Possession of prohibited weapons and devices (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3)
·       Possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4)
·       Unlawful possession of a weapon (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5)
·       Manufacturing weapons (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-9)
·       Possession of a firearm while committing certain offenses (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4.1)
·       Unlawful possession of a weapon N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5
·       Manufacturing weapons N.J.S.A. 2C:39-9”

Arango continued, “So what does that mean? That means, even though there hasn’t been a death due to Covid in prisons since June, a lot of inmates  could be released in a very short period of time. Additionally, funding has been cut to residential community release programs/transitional/reentry programs that help former inmates transition back, gain employment, and reduce recidivism. So you’re releasing a  lot of inmates in a short period of time and not funding (at the level needed for a substantial release) the programs that help keep them out of prison. Additionally, look at the list of those that qualify. So now you’re putting victims at risk… I don’t believe a no contact order is sufficient especially when you’re not properly funding programs to help keep them away from contacting their victims (domestic violence). Intent is never as important as impact. This just seems like a recipe for disaster.”

It will be interesting to see if this legislation passes both houses of the New Jersey Legislature and if Governor Phil Murphy signs it into law.

 

 

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