Recently Governor Murphy signed into law 3 bills which target sentencing reform in New Jersey. These 3 bills combine to create what will be known as the Compassionate Release Program in the Garden State. This program focuses on three areas (1) sick and ill inmates, (2) searching for cost savings implementations in the Department of Corrections, and (3) creates new factors for sentencing when the defendant was under the age of 26 at the time of the offense.
Medical Parole—Compassionate Release
The first law repeals New Jersey’s previous medical parole statute and replaces it with compassionate release. Under this new standard an incarcerated person may be released from prison if he/she is suffering from a terminal medical condition or permanent physical incapacity.
Cost Savings & Compassionate Release
The 2nd bill requires New Jersey’s Department of Corrections along with the Treasurer and State Parole Board to conduct a study to determine any cost savings that could be realized from a compassionate release and mandatory minimum reforms. Following this study, these officials will be required to submit results to state officials for further review.
Youthful Age & Compassionate Release
Finally, the 3rd law permits New Jersey criminal judges to consider a criminal defendant’s young age as a permissible mitigating factor when sentencing. Currently, only one mitigating factor relating to age is appropriate. This factor only permits courts to consider whether a defendant’s conduct was substantially influenced by another more mature person. Under the new law, a criminal court can now broadly consider as a mitigating factor whether a person under the age of 26 would have acted differently.
This additional mitigating factor will likely cause many state inmates to reconsider resentencing options in New Jersey. To pursue this option, an inmate, through his or her criminal defense lawyer must first seek a certificate of eligibility from the Commissioner of Corrections
Commissioner of Corrections will issue a Certificate of Eligibility for Resentencing to any inmate who:
(1) committed a crime as a juvenile and was tried as an adult;
(2) received an aggregate sentence of incarceration of 30 years or more;
(3) has served at least 20 years of that sentence; and
(4) has not been resentenced or previously sought relief under this section.
The court, upon consideration of a petition filed may, in its discretion, modify, reduce, or suspend the sentence, including any minimum or mandatory sentence or a portion of the sentence imposed upon the inmate. If, however, the court determines that a change in the inmate’s original sentence is not warranted, the court must issue a written order stating the reasons for denying modification.
New Jersey’s prison population has increased 278% from between 1975-2015. Alarming racial disparities and mandatory minimums have made the problem worse. The estimated cost to keep a person behind bars is $50,000 per year and this created a need for reform.
Social, emotional, and mental maturity of a defendant is very complex. Young people are easily persuaded by peer pressure. Prior to the new law the only factor related to age focused on the persons around the defendant as opposed to the defendant themselves. Advocates of the new law have argued that harsh sentences waste money with no public safety benefit.
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