NJ may start setting more prisoners free for health reasons
New Jersey is lacking compassion — at least in its prison system, according to a new state-by-state analysis that looks at programs in place for offering early release to prisoners with extraordinary circumstances such as a terminal or debilitating illness.
Citing numbers offered by the state, the report by Families Against Mandatory Minimums notes compassionate release — or medical parole, as its known in New Jersey — was granted at most two times annually from 2010 to 2017.
"This is the population that is the most expensive to incarcerate and the least likely to re-offend," report author Mary Price told New Jersey 101.5. "It makes no sense to keep them locked up."
In New Jersey, prisoners serving a sentence for murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault and other serious offenses are not eligible for medical parole. The list of exclusions also includes those armed with a deadly weapon during their offense, whether or not they used the weapon or threatened to use it.
New Jersey is one of 49 states with at least one compassionate release policy in place — Iowa is the outlier.
Until May 2018, only inmates with a terminal disease or illness could apply for medical parole in New Jersey. And their prognosis would have to be six months or less to live.
A recent change added serious medical conditions to the list — those that would render a prisoner permanently unable to perform activities of basic daily living, and would require 24-hour care.
The state Parole Board, when deciding on one's parole, also must determine whether an individual would be physically incapable of committing a crime if released.
Also newly enacted in New Jersey is a requirement that the Parole Board submit an annual report including information on the number of prisoners who've applied for medical parole, and the number approved or denied.
"We'll find out whether or not New Jersey is using its medical parole statute more frequently," Price said.
Unlike more than half of all states, New Jersey does not have a compassionate policy in place for elderly prisoners.