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COVID-19: County Jails Must Begin Releasing Inmates Before Dawn Tuesday, NJ Supreme Court Rules

Releases begin before 6 a.m. Tuesday.
Releases begin before 6 a.m. Tuesday. Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT file photo

Low-risk inmates serving sentences of less than a year will be released from New Jersey’s county jails before 6 a.m. Tuesday in response to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Their sentences will be suspended or converted to some type of restitution, under an order from the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court issued the order, announced Monday by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, following a Sunday night mediation among representatives from state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal’s Office, the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey and the state public defender’s office.

It applies only to those inmates serving time because of a probation requirement or Municipal Court conviction for third- or fourth-degree crimes, Rabner said.

It doesn’t affect state prison sentences, he said.

(Sentences of 364 days or fewer ordinarily are served in county jails in New Jersey.)

Other inmates serving county jail sentences -- among them, probation violators and any inmates held on disorderly persons charges -- will be released by no later than noon this Thursday, the chief justice added.

CLICK HERE for a copy of the NJ Supreme Court order.

County prosecutors or representatives from Grewal’s office could contest certain releases, he said.

Judges or special masters would then conduct hearings to determine whether the release of a particular inmate poses a significant risk to the safety of the inmate or to the public.

The order was issued, Rabner said, in response to growing concerns over the rapid spread of COVID-19 in county jails.

The Hudson County Jail went into lockdown Sunday after two inmates tested positive for the virus, officials said.


Meanwhile, a corrections officer at the Bergen County Jail also tested positive, leading seven co-workers to self-quarantine as well.


Once the COVID-19 state of emergency ends in New Jersey, those released from jail must appear before a judge who will determine whether or not to send them back, Rabner said.

No-contact orders, driver’s license suspensions and other conditions will remain in force, the chief justice said.

Other states, including California, have taken similar steps to protect jails from breeding COVID-19.

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