(Reuters) – New Jersey said Monday that it plans to temporarily release low-risk inmates serving prison terms in the county to limit the spread of coronavirus, following similar movements by some cities and counties in the United States.
The announcement was followed by an order on Sunday evening by the New Jersey chief of justice Stuart Rabner to suspend or commute the penalties imposed for violations of probation and municipal judicial convictions.
The order will release up to 1,000 inmates, said the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal said at a press conference that they would be released by Tuesday morning.
As a career attorney, Grewal said he “did not enjoy” releasing prisoners, but that the decision was justified by the seriousness of the health risk. He also indicated the infections that had occurred in New York City prisons.
“We know and have seen across the river that prisons can be disease incubators, so we need to take bold and drastic steps,” said Grewal, adding that inmates would be under house orders and would complete their sentences once that the crisis was over.
Prisons and prisons are climbing to safeguard a prisoner population that includes many people with basic medical problems.
The United States has more people behind bars than any other nation, about 2.3 million as of 2017, including around 1.5 million in state and federal prisons and another 745,000 in local prisons, according to the Statistical Office of Justice of the United States.
Last week the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, announced the release of 40 detainees from Rikers Island prison in light of the pandemic, and said on Sunday that another 23 would be released.
Other cities and counties in the United States are considering or have adopted similar policies.
Last week, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the county had taken action since late February to reduce the prison population of 617 inmates. This was done by releasing prisoners with less than 30 days in prison and changing the bail policies used to determine which arrests would receive a subpoena in respect of their custody.
While many state prisons have taken steps to limit the spread of the virus, such as banning visitors, they typically require a court order to release the detainees. Federal prisons face similar restrictions, although President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he will consider an executive order to free “totally nonviolent prisoners” from these structures.
An official with the union representing federal prisoners called on Attorney General William Barr to temporarily stop the movement of all prisoners between the structures until the virus can be contained.
Nathan Layne’s report in Wilton, Connecticut; Further reports from Peter Eisler, Linda So and Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Ned Park, Grant Smith and Brendan Pierson in New York; Curated by Grant McCool, Noeleen Walder and Cynthia Osterman