About 20% of N.J. Prisoners Could Be Freed to Avoid Virus

About 20% of N.J. Prisoners could be freed to avoid the virus.

Sex offenders would not be included, but others who have committed violent crimes including murder could still potentially be eligible for release.

DNYUZ reports New Jersey lawmakers seemed close to supporting legislation on Thursday that could free more than 3,000 prisoners — about 20 percent of the state’s prison population — months before their release dates in response to the extraordinary threat posed by the coronavirus in tightly packed correctional facilities.

Inmates who are within a year of completing their state prison sentences would be eligible to be released up to eight months early based on credits awarded for time served during the pandemic.

The bill, which the American Civil Liberties Union believes to be the first legislative initiative of its kind in the United States, would not permit the release of most sex offenders, but would apply to inmates sentenced for other violent crimes, including murder.

“There are people who were sentenced to long prison terms, but they weren’t sentenced to die in prison,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, one of the groups urging passage of the legislation.

The proposal comes amid nationwide efforts to reduce state and federal prison populations to protect inmates and employees from the virus, which continues to spread rapidly through some prisons. The five largest known clusters of the virus in the United States are now linked to correctional facilities.