At the end of the COVID-19 health crisis, judges will determine whether any sentences should be commuted, or reduced, New Jersey's American Civil Liberties Union said in a news release. The following is the county’s statement from Freeholder Director Joe Derella.
On behalf of the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders and our 14 Municipalities and Townships, we want to express our collective outrage at the New Jersey Supreme Court’s order for the release of certain inmates, who have been convicted of criminal offenses, in a misguided effort to control the spread of the Coronavirus. The County, Municipalities, and Townships in Cumberland County care passionately about the safety of our community, we condemn this action in the strongest terms.
The inmates to be released fit into two categories. The first, who must be released by 6 a.m. on March 24, 2020, includes any inmate currently serving a County jail sentence of 12 months or less as a condition of probation or as a result of a municipal court conviction. The second, who must be released by noon on March 26, 2020, includes inmates serving a sentence for violation of probation and inmates serving sentences for fourth degree crimes, disorderly person’s offenses or petty disorderly offenses.
In the Governor’s March 23, 2020 press conference both he and NJ Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal voiced their support for the Court’s order citing concerns respecting the spread of Coronavirus within the state’s county jails. The fact that our Governor and Attorney General consented to this risky and poorly thought out plan is deeply disturbing. This action is unprecedented in the United States for good reason. It is foolish.
The Warden of the Cumberland County jail, in conjunction with his dedicated leadership team and corrections officers have gone to extraordinary lengths to observe necessary protocols to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spread within the County jail. We share the Governor’s concern for the health of the corrections officers and staff. However, releasing some inmates, while keeping others incarcerated, does little to protect our corrections officers and staff. What it does do is release convicted inmates into our community based on, what amounts to be, the honor system. These individuals have not tested negative for the Coronavirus. They have been convicted of crimes and have proven to be a danger to the community. In fact, their release could cause the very community spread the Governor and the Attorney General wish to avoid. Instead of treating inmates who may ultimately test positive in a controlled setting, as a practical matter, they will be free to travel and interact with the public with no greater restriction than anyone else.
WE urge the Governor, the Attorney General and the Supreme Court to reconsider this order and rescind it immediately before they cause more harm than they wish to avoid.