CALL TO ACTION – Please contact your Assembly Reps before Thursday, 7/30 at 1pm
I hope you are doing well, and coping as best you can under the current COVID-19 health crisis. I know that many of us are preoccupied with the restrictions and fallout from coronavirus, but this post concerns a dangerous piece of legislation that will affect every one of us in New Jersey.
This is an Urgent Call to Action request, regarding A4372, a bill that is going to a vote in the NJ Assembly this Thursday, July 30th. If signed into law, this bill will allow certain inmates convicted of serious crimes–including Kim Montelaro’s rapist & murderer, Christopher Righetti, who is supposed to serve a Life sentence–to apply for a reduction or even suspension of that sentence, and secure an early release from prison, without some basic-yet-necessary safeguards.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
For the TL/DR crowd, I’ll cut to the chase: I’m asking that you contact your local NJ Assembly representatives as soon as possible and urge them to vote NO on A4372. You can email them via the Online Correspondence form on the NJ Legislative website, searching by the municipality in which you live, by following this link: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/SelectMun.asp
For those of you who are unaware of this bill, or would like additional details on our efforts to get it amended, here’s some background:
WHAT IS A4372?
A4372 allows for certain criminal offenders to have their sentences reduced, modified, or suspended. Specifically, the bill would apply to any inmate who 1) was a juvenile at the time their crime was committed, but was tried as an adult, 2) sentenced to 30 years or more in prison, and 3) has served at least 20 years of that sentence. Inmates who meet these criteria may petition the court for re-sentencing. The re-sentencing judge must then consider whether or not to reduce the inmate’s sentence, based upon a list of “mitigating factors of youth,” which include immaturity, peer pressure, poverty, substance abuse, and more. [You can read the bill at this link: https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2020/Bills/A4500/4372_R1.PDF]
WHY ARE WE OPPOSED TO A4372?
The intent of the bill appears to come from a place of compassion, and personally, I do believe in redemption and second chances, especially for mistakes and bad decisions that were made when a person was a juvenile. HOWEVER—this bill has some serious flaws that need to be corrected before it becomes law, and thus far, the sponsor has not accepted the suggested amendments. Instead, the bill has been fast-tracked through the legislature, during a time when the public has very limited access to the Statehouse, and many people are distracted with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on so many facets of our lives.
In its current form, A4372 circumvents the usual Parole Board process, and neglects to take the necessary steps to ensure that our state’s most dangerous criminals do not take advantage of the bill’s good intentions to seek early release. The bill prioritizes the rights of inmates who have been sentenced to 30 years or more, and does not indicate any exclusions for those sentenced to Life in prison—a sentence given to offenders who have committed especially brutal and violent crimes. The bill needs to exclude those who are a clear danger to society, but it lacks the checks and balances necessary to do so. We need to fix that.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
Unfortunately, this bill was drafted and filed without sufficient input from crime victims’ advocate groups and law enforcement. Keep NJ Safe has gone on record in strong opposition of the bill, along with the NJ Crime Victims Law Center and the Assistant Prosecutors Association and the NJ, but our pleas have been ignored thus far. Even though members of the Assembly Law & Public Safety Committee and the Assembly Appropriations Committee admitted that the bill still needs some work, they voted to release A4372, and now this flawed bill is going to the full Assembly for a vote. We will focus on getting the Senate Version of the bill (S2591) amended, but for now, we need YOUR help to spread the word about this bill before the vote on Thursday.
WHAT COMMON SENSE AMENDMENTS ARE WE REQUESTING?
1. A4372 must exclude inmates sentenced to life imprisonment from being eligible for resentencing. Those who have committed the most egregious crimes should not be afforded a fast-track to release—it’s more appropriate for them to adhere to the existing parole process, for the safety of their victims and the well-being of all NJ residents.
2. The judge who will decide whether or not to reduce, modify, or suspend an inmate’s sentence must have as much information on the inmate as possible, in order to make a fully informed decision. When going through the Parole process, there is a mandatory mental health evaluation conducted—and this bill does not currently mandate any such evaluation. The mental state of an inmate who has been incarcerated for 20 years or more must be considered during the re-sentencing process. We’re requesting an amendment that instructs the Department of Corrections to provide the court with a mental health evaluation of the inmate, performed within the past year from the date they receive their Certificate of Eligibility for Resentencing.
3. We are also asking the sponsors to add a provision that entitles the resentencing judge to receive copies of the inmate’s records from the New Jersey Department of Corrections, the State Parole Board, Children and Family Services, and any other state government agency in possession of records of the inmate, including an assessment report of the inmate’s parole history from the State Parole Board. Again, this will simply allow the judge to make an informed decision on whether or not to adjust the inmate’s sentence.
4. Last but not least, we want to ensure that throughout this process, Victims’ Rights continue to be upheld. We are seeking an amendment that allows for a “no contact” order forbidding the inmate to have any contact with the victim, and anyone else designated by the victim. This is extremely important, because the bill does not mandate any formal supervision of the inmate upon their release—another dangerous omission. The bill should also acknowledge that victims are entitled to the benefits provided to eligible and compensable victims under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Act, and all provisions of the New Jersey Alex DeCroce Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights.
If you agree that A4372 needs to be amended to avoid unintended, negative consequences that could jeopardize the safety of our communities, please ACT NOW to contact your State Assembly representatives and ask them to VOTE NO on Thursday, July 30th.
Thank you for your advocacy!
P.S. Given how quickly A4372 has moved over the past 7 days (it cleared 2 committees and is already scheduled for a vote), I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about stopping this bill in its tracks. That’s okay–we do still have time to get the Senate bill amended, but we need to start raising our voices NOW, in order for the Senate sponsor and Senate Judiciary Committee members to take a serious look at the changes we’re requesting. Please spread the word and feel free to share this post with anyone who might be willing to help us in this fight. Thank you!