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How is the State of New Jersey preventing the spread of COVID-19 in state correctional facilities and halfway houses? Can I visit?
Visitation Temporarily Suspended
Out of an abundance of caution, the Department of Corrections has temporarily suspended visitation until further notice to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The Department will continue to provide free supplemental phone and video messaging access along with postage to maintain communication with loved ones.
Health Precautions And Testing
In consultation with the Department of Health, the Department of Corrections is taking steps to protect those in custody, employees, and visitors from COVID-19 including:
- Conducting health screenings of all individuals entering its facilities
- Providing all inmates and residents with face masks
- Completing universal baseline testing of staff, inmates, and residents at all Corrections Facilities, Residential Release Programs, and Assessment Centers. For more information about cases and deaths, visit the DOC COVID-19 dashboard.
- Inmates with known exposure to COVID-19 are quarantined in a specifically designated quarantine unit within the facility, and the Department is providing alternative housing for its staff who have been exposed to COVID-19.
- Limiting foot traffic in facilities, with the implementation of flexible work arrangements for non-essential personnel that includes a reduced and rotational workforce.
- Modifying, suspending, or minimizing group activities, dining, recreation, religious gatherings, and education to minimize potential exposure and encourage social distancing. For example, individuals are provided access to religious materials and for the time being are encouraged to practice their faith in their living quarters. Also, educational programs have been adapted in support of independent study.
More information about the steps DOC has taken during this time along with the number of confirmed cases at DOC prisons, halfway houses, and other locations can be found here: https://njdoc.gov/pages/COVID19Updates.shtml
Note: Beginning November 5, employers must adhere to new employee protection guidelines, summarized here. Detailed requirements, as well as exemptions for certain employers, can be found in Executive Order No. 192.
Resumption of Services
The Department of Corrections has resumed select inmate activities, including inter-institutional transfers of inmates from the Central Reception and Assignment Facility (CRAF) to their assigned facility, intake of individuals from the county jails, and inter-Residential Community Release Program house transfers. Transporting of the aforementioned groups includes donning of proper PPE, sanitization of vehicles and social distancing. Individuals entering and transferring within NJDOC facilities will be tested for COVID-19 and held on a 14-day quarantine prior to being placed in the general population within the receiving facilities.
Additionally, the Gateway Substance Abuse Program has resumed individualized treatment programs. In-person one-on-one and small group mental health services are also operational along with select inmate services under the Division of Programs and Community Services, including Successful Transition and Reentry Series (STARS), Chaplaincy Services and State Facilities Education Activities (SFEA) Student-Inmates and adult basic education courses.
All resumed programs will incorporate public health guidance on virus mitigation, including the use of PPE, social distancing and sanitization. Where applicable, group activities will be smaller, and services will be consolidated and more frequent. For example, Chaplaincy Services will include attendee limits, dependent on service location, with certain customs such as handshaking or singing that could result in the spread of COVID-19 suspended. In-person educational instruction will also resume, with independent work provided on alternate weeks.
DOC continues to test incarcerated people and staff for COVID-19 at regular intervals.
The newly established processes are provisional and may be further modified or rolled back if testing data indicates a need to do so to protect public health.
Public Health Emergency Credits
On October 19, Governor Murphy signed legislationwhich requires public health emergency credits to be awarded to certain inmates and parolees during a public health emergency.
Under the bill (S2519), credits would be awarded to any adult inmate or juvenile who is within 365 days of their scheduled release. Credits would accrue at the rate of 122 days (four months) for each month, or portion of each month, served during the declared emergency with a maximum of 244 days (eight months) of remission to be awarded for any declared emergency period.
Credits would not to be awarded to anyone who is serving a sentence for murder or aggravated sexual assault or who has been deemed a repetitive, compulsive sex offender.
Low-level Offender Release
On April 10, Governor Murphy signed an Executive Order, establishing a process by which the Department of Corrections may grant temporary reprieve to certain at-risk inmates during the public health emergency. This creates the Emergency Medical Review Committee to make recommendations on which inmates should be placed on temporary home confinement through the Commissioner's statutory furlough authority. All recommendations to place an individual on home confinement will be made after thorough review and consideration of the conditions that an individual may face in the community.
The four categories for priority early release include individuals aged 60 years or older; individuals with high risk medical conditions, as determined by DOC in consultation with the Department of Health; individuals whose sentences expire within the next three months; and individuals who were denied parole within the last year. Individuals who have been convicted of a serious offense, including murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, or any offense subject to the No Early Release Act, will be ineligible for temporary reprieve.
On March 22, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order to suspend or commute county jail sentences for low-risk inmates. The order commutes or suspends county jail sentences currently being served by county jail inmates either as a condition of probation for an indictable offense or because of a municipal court conviction. At the conclusion of the public health emergency, those released from jail will appear before the court to determine whether their custodial sentences should be reinstated or commuted. No-contact orders, drivers' license suspensions, and other conditions will remain in force.
Source: https://www.njcourts.gov/pressrel/2020/pr032320a.pdf; https://www.state.nj.us/corrections/pdf/AlertMessage/200312_NJDOC_PreparedAddressCOVID19.pdf; https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200501a.shtml; Health Commissioner Persichilli's Remarks 6/5/20; https://njdoc.gov/pdf/PressRelease_PS/201006_Resumption_Visitation.pdf; https://nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20201019c.shtml