The NJ Supreme Court considered issues relating to the impact of the coronavirus on individuals in state prison and juvenile facilities. The Office of the Public Defender and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU) applied directly to the Court for relief relating to the spread of the virus in settings. They essentially asked the Judiciary to order a framework for the early release of several groups. Under the proposed framework, judges or court-appointed special masters would decide whether to grant release or furlough in individual cases.
Two days after the Public Defender and ACLU wrote to the Court, the Governor issued Executive Order 124. The Order created a mechanism to identify inmates in state prison to be considered for parole or a medical furlough. It provides two tracks for review, directing the Parole Board to expedite its consideration of inmates for parole and the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections (DOC) to decide whether to grant a medical furlough — an “emergency medical temporary home confinement.”
The Court held that Executive Order 124 created a sufficient expectation of eligibility for release through a furlough program to call for certain due process protections. As to sentences imposed on juveniles who are in the custody of the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC), those individuals may seek relief from the court on an individual basis. The Court noted that the Executive Branch, and not the Judiciary, has primary control over the custody and care of adult inmates, the parole process, and inmate furloughs. The Court found that Rule 3:21-10(b)(2) gives all inmates an opportunity to seek direct relief in court and requires an expedited briefing schedule for such motions, a return date within five days of filing, and a decision within the next three days. Lastly, the Court held that due process under the circumstances does not require an adversarial hearing with counsel, and a detailed statement of reasons is not required. Instead, the Court detailed what is required–notice, an opportunity to be heard and respond, and a written statement of reasons.