As reported by nj.com, after two months of stinging recriminations and heated controversy, Governor Chris Christie signed legislation to end the early release of inmates. Christie has blamed the early-release program for two killings allegedly committed by former inmates allowed out of prison months ahead of schedule.
“From a public policy and public safety point of view, the statutory early-release law was a disaster,” he said in a statement. “Repeal should have happened 10 months ago, when we predicted and warned of the tragic circumstances that would follow if this law remained in effect.” Christie added, “Our communities and the safety of our citizens must get first consideration, and repeal of this law accomplishes that.”
The governor’s signature canceled the release of four inmates yesterday and 14 scheduled to be released today. About 400 inmates had been released early since the program began on January 3.
A war of words broke out in March between Christie and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman, who sponsored the program, after it was disclosed that two former inmates had been charged with homicide after being released early. Christie blamed Watson Coleman for the deaths, while she said his administration failed to properly supervise former inmates.
Watson Coleman has argued that the program would improve public safety because inmates released early would be under state supervision rather than finishing sentences with no strings attached. Yesterday, she expressed concern that the state had “taken a step backward” in its effort to reduce recidivism.
The controversy over the early-release program dates to its signing by Governor Jon Corzine on his last day in office. When he approved Watson Coleman’s bill last year, Corzine attached a signing statement saying he expects the early-release provision “will not become effective.”
Christie and Watson Coleman have fought over what that meant. Coleman said she only committed to ensuring inmates were not released before their first parole dates; Christie said she broke her promise to roll back the entire program.
The bill signed by Christie yesterday also restores more discretion to the Parole Board, allowing it to determine an inmate’s parole eligibility rather than being required to review each case every three years. “These are decisions that belong not with the lawmakers but with professionals who have taken on this responsibility for decades,” Christie said.