NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — More than 2,000 inmates were released early from state prisons across New Jersey on Wednesday.
The governor signed off on the effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus, but some say it was a rushed political move.
Throughout the day, prisoners were freed from state prisons, dropped off in waves at transit hubs from Newark’s Penn Station to the Trenton Transit Center.
Cars waited hours for pick-up at Northern State Prison in Newark.
Kevin Hayes, a diabetic, was supposed to be released in January. He went home with his brother Wednesday.
“It’s a great feeling,” he told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner.
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John Durant caught a bus to his sister’s. He was in prison for selling drugs and is being released three months early.
“I was in there making my own mask,” he said. “They’re using one bathroom … The quarantine is on the unit we are on.”
“New Jersey, first of all, had the worst rate of COVID-related deaths in its prisons in the country,” said Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberites Union NJ.
“It was almost like a all hands on deck. There are a number of challenges. I mean, making sure people have food stamps and general assistance and Medicaid,” said former governor Jim McGreevey, with the New Jersey Reentry Corporation.
The governor signed a law that knocks up to eight months off sentences and excludes people convicted of murder, aggravated sexual assault and repetitive compulsive sex offenders.
Dwayne Burnett served time for assault. He says the state gave him a check, jail ID and bus tickets. He took advantage of Newark’s free COVID testing before heading home.
“We got tested so many times, even yesterday, I got tested. Always negative,” he said.
But some say the process was rushed and not transparent.
“This was the perfect time for the governor to release inmates without taking any political fallout,” Republican Minority Leader Assemblyman John Bramnick said. “The question I have is, who are you releasing, what type of crime did they commit, are they tested positive and are they under supervision?”
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora says he was told only victims will receive that kind of information.
“Public safety is number one. We’re gonna have as many as 180 returning citizens into Trenton. We want to make sure that they can get back on their feet,” he said.
The Department of Corrections says 11 people who were released are COVID positive, and they received personalized transportation.
A spokesperson for the governor did not respond to criticism from Republicans.
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