As reported by, parole requirements would be eased for some prisoners and job restrictions lifted for convicted felons under a package of bills that Democratic sponsors said Monday would redirect State funds from incarceration to rehabilitation.

The measures, introduced last week amid the start of the new legislative session and an address by the governor, were described by State Senators, Raymond Lesniak and Sandra Cunningham, the sponsors, as a way to revamp the criminal justice system by encouraging drug treatment and removing employment barriers.

One bill, S907, would require the State Parole Board to release inmates when they reached their parole eligibility date unless they had committed a serious infraction while in prison or had not participated in rehabilitation programs. As for the others: S881 would give judges and prosecutors greater discretion on who could be tried in a drug court. S876 would repeal the ban on convicted felons working in places where alcohol is sold. S878 would prohibit public and private employers from automatically disqualifying convicted felons from jobs.

The measures differ from the proposal put forward by Governor Chris Christie in his State of the State address, which called from mandatory drug treatment for nonviolent offenders. Lesniak said his legislation would not require drug treatment for those who did not want it because that would be counterproductive and costly.

Lesniak said the changes in parole requirements proposed by him and Cunningham could reduce the prison population by 2,300 inmates a year, saving about $100 million that could instead go toward preparing inmates for release by helping find jobs, housing, counseling, and other services. He also said he would like to see a 50 percent increase in drug court participation by giving judges and prosecutors more latitude in deciding who could be admitted.

Drug courts, started more than a decade ago, divert offenders from prison as long as they complete drug treatment programs. But the current program does not admit people who have committed several offenses even if they are not considered violent.