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Lawmakers Hear Critics of State Prisons’ COVID-19 Response

A Wednesday New Jersey Assembly committee hearing on the state prisons’ handling of the COVID-19 outbreak left members with more questions than answers, as corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks did not show up to respond to numerous problems raised by inmates’ family members, advocates and the corrections officers’ union.

During a two-hour joint virtual hearing, the Assembly Judiciary and the Law and Public Safety committees heard from those critical of how the state Department of Corrections has dealt with the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, from slow and lax attempts to contain the spread of the virus to sluggish implementation of inmate releases under an executive order Gov. Phil Murphy signed April 10. They also heard emotional pleas from relatives of those who were sickened or died in prison due to COVID-19.

Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), chair of the judiciary committee, started the hearing by saying that some of the stories he has heard about the situation in state prisons are “disconcerting, to put it mildly.” At the end of the meeting, he said he had “probably more questions than answers,” but he is concerned that failures of the system have contributed to the state’s unenviable ranking as having the highest virus-related inmate death rate in the nation. The corrections department reports that 46 inmates had died as of Tuesday night, with 2,451 inmates and 778 staff sick. Three staff also have died due to the virus.

—Colleen O’Dea / June 11, 2020 / NJ Spotlight

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