The Assembly Judiciary and Assembly Law and Public Safety committees joined on Wednesday to hear testimony on the impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey’s State and county correctional facilities. Committee chairs issued the following statements:
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), chair of the Assembly Judiciary committee: “New Jersey has made significant strides over other states to address mass incarceration and bail reform, prioritizing rehabilitation and best practices proven to reduce recidivism. Nevertheless, our response to COVID-19 within our high-risk correctional facilities lagged, leaving us with the unsettling reality that our prisons are leading the nation in number of deaths from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“Today we learned that systemic failures led to some of these deaths, which may have been preventable. Our brave correctional staff as well as the inmates they serve, who too often find themselves voiceless, deserve better. And so do their families.
“The committee’s work has just begun. We look forward to further dialog with the Department of Corrections to understand what went wrong and what could have been done better.”
Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem), chair of the Assembly Law and Public Safety committee: “Nearly nine percent of our prison population of roughly 18,000 has tested positive for coronavirus.
“As we heard today, inadequate protections for correctional employees both uniformed and medical, lacking PPE and enforcement of social distancing among prisoners, failure to act on early release executive orders and delayed testing all contributed.
“This begs the question – what could have been done to better mitigate the conditions?
“Starting with today’s joint meeting, we are taking a serious look back to answer these questions. To justly serve every person in New Jersey impacted by the coronavirus, we must shed light on the significant public health missteps in our prisons and continue to address systemic failures.”