Moving on criminal justice reform, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Jamel Holley, Patricia Egan Jones and Benjie Wimberly aiming to end the school-to-prison pipeline, assist individuals in recovery and rehabilitation, reduce the number of repeat offenders and provide savings was signed into law Monday.
“The majority of the more than 10,000 inmates who are released from prison each year in New Jersey will be rearrested, and two in five will return to prison. In addition to the direct impact this has on their own lives, it also affects their families, their communities and the entire state,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It’s critical that we stop this woeful pattern by making sure that these men and women have the education, job skills and other resources they need in order to be productive members of society after leaving prison.”
The law (formerly bill A-1986) – called the “Earn Your Way Out Act” – enacts various corrections and parole reforms, including requiring the Department of Corrections (DOC) to develop a reentry plan for each inmate, establishing administrative parole release for certain inmates, providing for parole compliance credits, creating an inmate disciplinary database and mandating an impact study of the law’s reforms by an institution of higher education’s criminal justice program.
“For far too long, we have allowed the school-to-prison pipeline to remain intact,” said Holley (D-Union). “Now, we have a law that will finally allow us to break this pipeline, and help make incarcerated New Jerseyans truly gain a second chance.”
Under the law, the DOC Commissioner will be required to establish a Division of Reentry and Rehabilitative Services to coordinate reentry preparation and other rehabilitative services within all State correctional facilities, and to act as a liaison to the State Parole Board. Staff within the division will be responsible for developing and implementing an individualized, comprehensive reentry plan designed to prepare each inmate for successful integration as a productive, law-abiding citizen upon release.
The law also enables all eligible parolees to earn compliance credits, which will be used to reduce their time by five days for each month they remain in compliance with the conditions of parole and does not commit a serious or persistent infraction.
“The Earn Your Way Out Act is supportive of second chances,” said Patricia Egan Jones (D-Camden). “Preparing a pathway to reentry and providing access to needed resources is the only way to help these individuals during their next steps in life.”
“This is exactly where our emphasis should be when it comes to reforming the system, reducing crime and shutting the revolving door on prisons,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Comprehensive and effective rehabilitation programs will restore hope, dignity, and provide former inmates the second chance they deserve to do better once released. There’s a lot more to be done; however, this is a critical step to stabilizing families, reforming a broken system that has burdened our state and society with unquantifiable costs.”
Additionally, the law provides that inmates may be awarded commutation credits following arrest for time served in a county jail. Currently, commutation credits are not available to inmates who serve time in a county jail prior to serving time in a State correctional system.
The law also creates a centralized database of information contained in each disciplinary report prepared by a corrections officer in response to an inmate committing a prohibited act.
Any cost savings realized will go to the Office of Victim Services for the operating costs of the Focus on the Victim Program, as well as other services to facilitate successful recovery.