Prisoners at New Jersey’s Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center (ADTC)—all convicted sex offenders—do not have access to the same programs and benefits that other state prisoners do, according to a letter excerpted in a post on December 28, 2021, to the site of the National Association of Rational Sex Offense Laws (NARSOL).
Calling on Gov. Phil Murphy (D) to end this discrimination, the letter notes his efforts since his 2017 election to reduce some of the drivers of over-incarceration, signing bills to eliminate cash bail, reduce sentences, and introduce prison educational programs. Other measures include restoring voting rights to individuals on parole or probation and expunging the records of non-violent offenders.
But prisoners at ADTC have been specifically excluded from many reform initiatives. Most recently, in November 2021, the Governor kept sex offenders from receiving Health Emergency Credits, which provided sentence-reduction to reduce prison populations during the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though ADTC was one of the prisons hit hardest by the disease, its population was denied this relief.
This “state-sponsored discrimination faced by people convicted of sex offenses in New Jersey,” the post notes, “pervades every aspect of their incarceration, from the food they receive to the educational programs they are offered.” ADTC prisoners have no access to vocational training nor any educational programming except high-school equivalency classes.
An email campaign has begun to remind Murphy of prison reform pledges made during his campaign. An online petition has also been posted at Change.org to repeal the state’s No Early Release Act (NERA), a law requiring a person convicted of a violent crime to serve a minimum of 85 percent of his sentence before seeing any possibility of parole—no matter how good his behavior, how high his educational accomplishments, nor even how far his progress in therapy goes. As of May 2022, almost 15,000 people had signed the petition.
In New Jersey, most sex offenders are convicted on charges classified as violent, thereby meriting NERA sentences, though that distinction is mostly a legal one: “[I]n the vast majority of cases, no violence or even threats were used in the commission of the offense,” the post notes.
In 1994, the state was the first to enact a sex offender registry, 89 days after seven-year-old Megan Kanka was raped and murdered by a neighbor her parents did not know had been twice convicted of abusing children. The measure was quickly replicated in other states and on the federal level, but a 2008 Justice Department study concluded “there is virtually no evidence to [the laws’] effectiveness.”
Prisoners at ADTC say they are not calling on the governor to do more than provide access to parole and let progress in therapy help determine the length of time they must remain imprisoned.
“We are not asking to simply be released from incarceration,” concludes the letter sent to the governor, “but for an opportunity to earn our chance to reduce our sentences, the same opportunity you provide all other inmates in the State.”
Sources: NARSOL, WCAU
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