Measure Would Require Individualized Re-Entry Plan for Each Inmate

Legislation Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Jamel Holley and Sheila Oliver sponsored to reform the prison system in New Jersey and reduce the likelihood that former inmates will return to prison was advanced Monday by an Assembly committee.

“The majority of the more than 10,000 inmates who are released from prison each year in New Jersey will be re-arrested, 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 bill (A-2182/S-895), the “Earn Your Way Out Act,” would require the Department of Corrections to develop an individualized, comprehensive re-entry plan for each prison inmate in an effort to reduce the likelihood of recidivism and increase the chances of successful reintegration into society. Under the legislation, the department commissioner would 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.

“Too many men and women in New Jersey leave prison the same way they came in – with few options and little hope for the future,” said Holley (D-Union). “Ensuring that former inmates have a pathway to success after prison will help them turn their lives around.”

“Keeping an inmate in a prison cell costs taxpayers $50,000 per year, and that’s in addition to the immeasurable societal costs New Jersey incurs when people who may have little education, few legitimate job prospects and mental health or substance abuse issues are left to fend for themselves after years in prison,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “All of New Jersey will benefit from an effort to assist former inmates in recovery and rehabilitation.”

The measure also would reform the parole system in New Jersey. Under current law, an adult inmate is released on parole at the time of parole eligibility, unless the inmate has failed to cooperate in rehabilitation or there is a reasonable expectation that the inmate will violate conditions of parole. The bill would allow an inmate to instead be administratively released without a parole consideration hearing if a hearing officer reviews the pre-parole report and certifies an inmate for release.

An inmate would be eligible for administrative parole release if he or she: 1) has not been convicted of a violent crime under the No Early Release Act, a sex offense under Megan’s Law or a sexually violent offense; 2) has not committed any prohibited acts required to be reported to the county prosecutor pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Commissioner of Corrections that resulted in a conviction during the current term of incarceration, or any serious disciplinary infraction within the previous two years; and 3) has completed relevant rehabilitation programs during incarceration, or applied to participate in these programs but was unable to complete such programs or denied access because of circumstances beyond his or her control. Current law would require crime victims to be notified prior to the inmate’s release.

The bill would require a study to be conducted by a criminal justice program of a New Jersey four-year public institution of higher education to determine the impact of administrative parole release on the inmate population.

The legislation also would allow parole compliance credits, which would permit an eligible parolee to earn a five-day reduction in his or her term for each month of remaining in compliance with the conditions of parole.

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.