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New Jersey governor signs new sentencing reform bills into law
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New Jersey governor signs new sentencing reform bills into law

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed three bills into law establishing a compassionate release program for certain inmates and also a Corrections Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention Fund.

In addition to the compassion release program and crime prevention fund, the bills approved Monday will work together to require a cost-savings study of compassionate release programs and elimination of mandatory minimum terms, and add new factors that courts may consider when sentencing defendants under 26. Each bill implements recommendations from the state Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission‘s November 2019 report.

The first bill, Bill A3470, “repeal[s] New Jersey’s existing medical parole statute and replace[s] it with compassionate release, under which an incarcerated person may be released from prison if the person is suffering from a terminal medical condition or permanent physical incapacity.” Additionally, it requires the Department of Corrections (DOC) to notify an inmate’s attorney when the inmate is diagnosed with a “grave medical condition,” for the attorney to prepare a petition for their compassionate release.

Bill A3471 requires DOC, in consultation with the Treasury and the State Parole Board, to “annually report to the Governor and Legislature the results of a study examining any cost savings that may be realized from compassionate release and mandatory minimum reforms.” The Disposition Commission believes reducing short-term prison terms for certain low-risk offenders may generate cost savings for the state over the long-term. These savings would be deposited into the newly created crime prevention fund to support recidivism reduction programs.

Finally, Bill A3473 permits judges to consider a criminal defendant’s young age to be a permissible mitigating factor in sentencing. There is only one current mitigating factor related to the age of a young defendant, which allows courts to consider whether the defendant was under the influence of another, more mature person.

“These important bills will benefit all New Jerseyans and their families, especially those in marginalized communities,” said Jiles Ship, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, New Jersey Chapter. “The commission’s vision for a fairer criminal justice system garnered unanimous consensus from the various professionals who work daily in the criminal justice system. Together, these reforms can change people’s lives and makes New Jersey safer for everyone, which ultimately saves taxpayer dollars.”