(TRENTON) – Taking a bold step toward criminal justice reform, Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Jamel Holley and Benjie Wimberly are sponsors of the “Earn Your Way Out Act,” which aims to end the school-to-prison pipeline, assist those individuals in recovery and rehabilitation, reduce the number of repeat offenders and provide savings by eliminating the $50,000 a year it costs to incarcerate a prisoner. This bill was advanced Monday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety 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.”
“For far too long, we have allowed the school-to-prison pipeline to remain intact,” said Holley (D-Union). “Now, we have a piece of legislation that will finally allow us to break this pipeline, and help make incarcerated New Jerseyans truly gain a second chance.”
“This is exactly where our focus should be when it comes to reforming the system, reducing crime and shutting the revolving door on this country’s 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.”
The bill, (A-1986) would enact 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 bill’s reforms by an institution of higher education’s criminal justice program.
Those reforms are detailed as follows:
Reentry Preparation and Rehabilitative Services
The Commissioner of Corrections is 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 is 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.
Administrative Parole Release
Administrative parole release means the release of an adult inmate who has met the criteria set forth in the bill at the time of primary or subsequent parole eligibility, and occurs after a hearing officer reviews the pre-parole report of an inmate, who is then certified for release.
Under current law, an adult inmate is released on parole at a time of parole eligibility, unless the inmate has failed to cooperate in his or her own rehabilitation or there is a reasonable expectation that the inmate will violate conditions of parole.
This legislation provides that an inmate will be administratively released on parole at the time of primary or subsequent parole eligibility if:
• The inmate 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;
• The inmate 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;
• The inmate has completed relevant rehabilitation during incarceration, or made application to participate in these programs but was unable to complete such programs or denied access because of circumstances beyond the inmate’s control; and
• Crime victims have received notification required by current law.
Once a parolee is released on administrative parole, they are to remain in the legal custody of the Commissioner of Corrections, be supervised by the Division of Parole of the State Parole Board, and be subject to the provisions and conditions established by the appropriate board panel. If the parolee violates a condition of parole, the parole may be revoked and the parolee returned to custody.
Parole Compliance Credits
This bill enables all eligible parolees to earn compliance credits, wherein their term is reduced by five days for each month they remain in compliance with the conditions of parole and does not commit a serious or persistent infraction.
Additionally, the bill 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.
Under this bill, the Commissioner of Corrections is required to establish and maintain a centralized database of information contained in each disciplinary report prepared by a corrections officer in response to an inmate committing a prohibited act, required to be reported to the county prosecutor.
Cost Savings Allocation
The Commissioner of Corrections is also required to allocate a portion of any cost savings realized from the bill’s enactment 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.
Also required by this bill is the conduction of a study by a criminal justice program at a four-year public institution of higher education in New Jersey to determine the impact that administrative parole release, as established in the bill, has on the inmate population.
In addition, the Commissioner of Corrections, in consultation with the Chairman of the State Parole Board, must conduct a study to determine the fiscal impact of establishing a Division of Reentry and Rehabilitative Services.
The bill will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.