New Jersey Bucks National Trend By Lowering State Prison Population
Across the nation, states are grappling with enormous budget deficits. A common problem among these states is a crippling, costly prison system siphoning tens of millions of dollars from other state needs in a deep recession.
The New Jersey Star-Ledger reports that the state of New Jersey is bucking the national trend by successfully lowering its state prison population.
According to new federal statistics, New Jersey’s prison population fell 14.8 percent from the years 2000 to 2009. By contrast, Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, and West Virginia had increases ranging from 45 to 65 percent.
One of the reasons for New Jersey’s reduction is that the state’s crime rate has fallen 17.1 percent since 2000, with violent crime dropping 13.2 percent, according to Uniform Crime Report statistics.
Avoiding Prison, Receiving Treatment
Another reason for the prison population drop is that the state has shifted its approach to criminal justice. For example, nonviolent offenders convicted of drug-related crimes can go through drug court, simultaneously avoiding prison and receiving treatment that can help prevent future legal problems.
Since the drug court program began in 2002, more than 1,600 offenders have intensive probation and counseling rather than years in prison.
The program isn’t a surefire method of avoiding prison, however: 2,386 offenders went to prison because they failed the drug court program.
The state also recently reduced mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes. Some people convicted of dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of a school will no longer automatically receive one to three years in prison for the offense.
A major problem contributing to prison overcrowding is the number of people in prison for parole violations. They’ve been released from prison, and violated the terms of their parole, but have not committed any new crimes.
The Star-Ledger says federal statistics indicate that a third of state prison admissions are for parole violations. Many are for technical violations: failing to show for a scheduled appointment with a parole officer or flunking a drug test.
New Jersey’s Parole Board has actively worked to reduce the number of offenders returned to prison merely for technical probation violations. In 2005, there were 3,505 such admissions; last year the number had dropped to 2,038.
If you or a person you care about faces the possibility of prison after an arrest, contact a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer. A criminal defense attorney assesses the facts of the case and the relevant law and then advises you of your legal options.