The Assembly is poised to vote soon on final passage of legislation to free more than 3,000 prisoners because of the COVID-19 emergency, but without bothering to notify victims of domestic violence of their right to protection from contact with their abusers, or providing means of enforcing the no-contact rule.
The Legislature should amend this bill (A-4235/S-2519) to ensure that victims are equipped to protect themselves from their abusers.
This early release plan is important to protect the health of inmates who face an unacceptably high risk of contracting COVID-19. Somewhere along the way, however, the Legislature sacrificed urgent protections for victims.
Victims of domestic violence need to know that a no-contact rule is in effect, and they need an order to show the police if their abusers make contact. The pending bill provides neither. It mandates notice of the no-contact rule only to the released prisoner, not to his victim. Prosecutors are free to notify the victim or not. And, no document prohibiting contact is automatically generated, much less provided to victims. Police will not be prepared to make an arrest if the victim calls to complain about the abuser lurking at the home or workplace.
The logistical difficulties of generating no-contact orders and sending them to victims are insufficient to justify not doing so. The purpose of the bill is to save the lives of inmates facing infection. That is a worthy goal. But the early discharge of prisoners should come neither at the expense of, nor as a surprise, to the victims those inmates may have assaulted, often repeatedly. The bill should give victims the means to protect themselves from contact with their abusers.
Trish Perlmutter, Policy Counsel, Partners for Women and Justice, Bloomfield
Stop delaying early inmate release plan
Concerning the recent editorial “To stop viral spread in prisons, fix reentry.”
I thank the Star-Ledger for drawing the public’s attention to the unrelenting back-and-forth of S2519/A4235. Families of inmates, the inmates themselves and taxpayers’ money are all part of this debate.
The families of about 3,000 inmates were preparing for loved ones to return home, which seemed very probable because of the preparations behind and outside prison walls. Probation officers worked as directed to approve places to live for prisoners who do not need a halfway house. Social services and health personnel dealt with applications for assistance, medication monitoring and counseling. Apparently, this time and money were spent so legislators could think about it some more.
Another effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is no more visitors to inmates. This is very necessary, but prisoners are also losing recreational and social programs aimed at preparing for release, and their psychological well-being. On top of this, they’ve been told they are getting out because their time has been reduced according to a point system.
These inmates have families, friends and, I believe, the right not to be treated so callously. The health and lives of these inmates should not be at the mercy of the State of New Jersey finding the money to restructure a long-broken reentry program. There may not be enough time.
Barbara Babington, Morris Plains
A masked golfer is a safer golfer
Per one of Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive orders, all persons are required to wear a face mask in New Jersey’s public parks and golf courses to protect us all against COVID-19, unless you are at least 6 feet away from anyone else.
Essex County Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs also states this on its website. So why is it that I seem to be the only person who wears a mask while playing at any of the county golf courses?
While everyone wears a required mask to check in and pay for their round of golf, nearly everyone but me removes the face mask at the first tee, never to put it on again until maybe after the round is over and they go back to the parking lot.
While you can socially distance at many places on the golf course, you often cannot do so at the tee boxes, or on the putting greens. You definitely cannot social distance if you are riding in a golf cart with someone else.
It is dangerous not to enforce the executive order. I am asking Gov. Murphy and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo to enforce this order.
Alan Saltzman, Livingston
Bag ban ill timed
“It’s time to get rid of plastic bags for good,” a recent op-ed by Jennifer M. Coffey, echoes a common refrain: Reusable bags are a safe and preferable alternative.
Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, writes that she “understands that COVID-19 has presented uncertainty about the safety of reusables vs. single-use plastics… . Science tells us that soap and water kill the coronavirus, so washed reusables are likely safe.”
Actually, Coffey’s words reveal the risk.
While there’s been no direct linkage between COVID-19 and reusable bags, policymakers and businesses deserve praise for erring on the side of caution to ensure retailers, frontline workers and consumers had peace of mind for one simple reason: 97 percent of consumers in a 2010 survey report rarely or never washing reusable grocery bags.
In the middle of a global pandemic, for our frontline workers, “likely safe” may not be sufficient.
Now is the wrong time for New Jersey Senate Bill 864, pending in the Assembly after Senate passage. It bans plastic retail bags in favor of reusables. This would unleash unintended consequences ranging from new costs on struggling businesses to diminished certainty for frontline employees to know the bags they are handling are clean.
Even ANJEC acknowledges that some types of single-use plastic bags will still be allowed “for sanitary reasons.” If those plastic bags have value, surely similar plastic bags at the retail level do, too. It is hard to imagine a more pressing situation than a pandemic to take every precaution to promote good sanitation and provide businesses flexibility in meeting consumer expectations.
In New Jersey, the bag ban that activists are pushing misses the mark, preventing retailers from offering the only product that delivers both reassurance and the least environmental impacts: the plastic retail bag.
Zachary Taylor, director, American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, Washington, D.C.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
The Star-Ledger/NJ.com encourages submissions of opinion. Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow us on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and on Facebook at NJ.com Opinion. Get the latest news updates right in your inbox. Subscribe to NJ.com’s newsletters.