Some concerns raised as more than 2,200 state prisoners released early during pandemic
More than 2,200 state prisoners were released this month under a new law that allows credit for time served in prison during the pandemic.
The goal is to keep COVID-19 from spreading inside of New Jersey’s prison system. But News 12 New Jersey has learned that one of the men released was serving time for sexually assaulting a child.
When the Murphy administration approved the law this past spring, the directive was clear: No one convicted of a violent crime would be allowed out.
But since then, the Legislature passed and the governor signed a bill granting early release to a different group of inmates. Still excluded are those serving time for murder, aggravated sexual assault, or a sexual offense where the conduct is characterized by a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior.
“It's much too early to tell if that's had an impact just yet but I know other mayors have expressed concerns to me, and they've expressed concerns to the public as well,” says Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh.
Shootings in Paterson are at a 10-year high. Sayegh says that his administration is monitoring the prisoners released from his city but stopped short of criticizing the program.
“From a personal standpoint, I think they should serve out their time that they were sentenced to,” says PBA 105 President Bill Sullivan. “But from a professional standpoint, they say release 'em, we release 'em.”
Phillip Brand was released from Northern State Prison in Newark on Nov. 4 along with 2,200 other inmates statewide. Brand pleaded guilty to luring or enticing a child, sexual assault of a victim under 13, and endangering the welfare of a child. Brand's family says he was wrongfully accused, and that he was taken back to prison on Nov. 11. The Corrections Department released him again for good on Nov. 17.
A spokesperson for the state Department of Corrections said in a statement, "Mr. Brand's case has a complicated sentencing structure, which was flagged by an internal audit for additional review out of an abundance of caution. The extensive evaluation of his judgment of convictions was given further review, which determined he was in fact eligible for the Public Health Emergency Credit after completing the sentencing for the conviction referenced."
“Our SOC team went out and got the guy and brought him back, and they’re doing all the monitoring. So, they’re doing extra work than they normally do,” Sullivan says. “But as a whole, the department was tasked with completing all these releases in a short time. I think our staff did a great job with what was thrown in front of them.”
The Corrections Department says an internal audit found the Public Health Emergency Credits were properly applied to all those eligible.
The corrections officers’ union says up to 1,000 more inmates could be released in January.