Another 852 inmates are back on the streets before their release date.

Critics point out the Murphy administration is using a law signed in response to the pandemic even after the governor's COVID-19 emergency order ended last week. 

The state released the inmates Sunday. This latest release brings the total number of inmates reentering society to more than 6,200, according to the New Jersey Monitor.

Law enforcement leaders believe the release endangers the public. William Lanoza, president of the NJ Law Enforcement Supervisors Association, says COVID-19 is "practically non-existent" within the state's prisons and jails. 

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"The governor’s actions are not making New Jersey’s streets, towns, and cities any safer," said Lanoza last week. "In fact, the murder rate in New Jersey climbed twenty-three percent (23%) in 2021 reaching the highest it has been since 2016." 

Vehicle thefts are also on the rise, continuing a trend from 2021. They're up 31% over last year, according to Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin.  

Some advocates are applauding the early releases and would like to see more. Yannick Wood with the NJ Institute for Social Justice would like to see the state invest more in rehabilitation. 

“The answer cannot be just to lock people up because that’s not sustainable and it doesn’t truly rehabilitate people,” Wood said. “You can’t lock people up forever. 

Two Republican state lawmakers from Monmouth County are calling on the governor's office to stop the early release program.  

“The health emergency is over so it doesn’t make sense to continue releasing prisoners early,” Assemblywoman Marilyn Piperno said. “This entire program was supposed to limit the spread of Covid but it failed and crime has skyrocketed the past two years.” 

Assemblywoman Kim Eulner echoed the sentiment, saying, “Not everyone is fit to rejoin society." 

Nearly 1 in 10 prisoners reoffended after their release under the program last year, according to WNYC/Gothamist. Among them are three men who were subsequently accused in the killings of five people. 

Murphy signed the bill in October 2020 enabling prisoners' early release as the virus spread throughout correctional facilities.  

The law gives inmates credits to shorten their sentences during a declared public health emergency. They can then use these credits to shrink their sentence by up to 122 days. 

Murphy declared the state's latest public health emergency in mid-January as COVID-19 spread hit record highs. It expired on March 7, but the inmates who earned credits for the last two months can still reap the benefits.

Serious offenders, including inmates convicted of murder and aggravated sexual assault, are not eligible for the program. It’s not clear how many more inmates will qualify for early release. 

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