Sentencing reforms advance, but NJ judiciary can’t pay for them
More than a half-dozen criminal justice reforms were endorsed Monday by an Assembly committee, positioning them for final Assembly votes Thursday.
The state judiciary doesn’t know how it would pay to implement a change that would expand the conditional dismissal program in New Jersey municipal courts to include drug offenses, allowing charges to be dismissed if a person spends a clean year on probation.
Legislative liaison Jacqueline Augustine of the Administrative Office of the Courts said it is expected that the bill could require hiring an additional 112 probation officers.
“The bill states that the defendants are not to be charged a fee for participation in the program, but the bill does not state how the program will be funded,” Augustine said.
Augustine said an existing municipal diversion program carries a $75 fee to participate and that there’s also usually a $30 a month probation supervision fee.
“We estimate that more staff and more resources would be needed to provide additional supervision for such cases, which ordinarily do not require this level of supervision,” said Augustine, who estimates the program would cost over $16 million in its first year and boost costs for municipal courts, as well.
Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said that’s good information to have.
“We’ve got to go find the money somewhere because it seems like this is the thing to do if we can figure out how to pay for it,” Burzichelli said.
Another bill in the package would allow inmates to be resentenced if they’ve served at least 20 years of a 30-year prison term for crimes committed as juvenile. Lisa Yakokin, director of Keep New Jersey Safe, said that would circumvent the authority of the Parole Board.
“And because it is being applied retroactively without limitation could result in a flood of early release requests from our state’s most dangerous criminals,” Yakomin said.
Yakomin points to an abduction-turned-murder at a Paramus mall in 1976 and says people serving a life sentence shouldn’t be eligible to have that changed. The inmate, Christopher Righetti, has been denied parole six times since 2002, and Yakomin says another opportunity is redundant and unnecessary.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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