New Jersey Corrections Officials (Temporarily) Banned Released Prisoners From Talking To Journalists

from the furloughing-rights dept

Our nation's prisons and jails are coronavirus incubators. Everyone inside is stacked on top of each other and the notion of "social distance" doesn't have much meaning in a place where sheltering in place means breathing the air of everyone else being forcibly sheltered in place.

Taking the risk of appearing soft on crime, some states have begun releasing at-risk prisoners, subject to a long list of exceptions that still leaves plenty of people in jail (and plenty of people tasked with watching over them). Since most crimes don't come with death sentences, it seems kind of cruel and unusual to subject minor criminals to the increased possibility of dying, but only a small percentage of inmates meet the criteria for release.

However, enough of them have that Rikers Island -- New York City's most infamous jail -- has seen its population dwindle to its World War II numbers. Like most jails, Rikers Island's population includes people who have yet to be convicted of a crime -- jailed until their trial date. With courts handling fewer cases than usual, jailings have become more indefinite than usual while awaiting trial.

Testing has ramped up in federal prisons and local jails, bringing with them severe spikes in confirmed cases. This never looks good on the COVID-19 balance sheet, but jam enough people into enclosed spaces and bad things develop quickly during pandemics.

Releasing at-risk inmates is a good idea, even if it's still mostly an unpopular one. The state of New Jersey decided to show some much-needed compassion by releasing some of its inmates. But that compassion came tied to a long list of restrictions that somehow included First Amendment violations, as NJ.com reports.

As New Jersey prepares to temporarily release some state prison inmates to stem a spike in coronavirus deaths behind bars, corrections officials threatened to throw anyone who talked to the media back in their cells, NJ Advance Media has learned.

The gag order was among more than two dozen conditions prisoners had to agree to in order to get temporary medical leave under an executive order signed by Gov. Phil Murphy this month, which sought to reduce prison populations by moving sick, elderly and other prisoners to home confinement.

Fortunately, this bonus Constitutional violation was stripped from the updated list [PDF] of requirements and restrictions given to released inmates. But it only happened after the ACLU complained to the state attorney general about the unconstitutional aspects of the release terms.

According to a spokesperson for the state's correctional facilities, this First Amendment blunder was the result of copy-pasting a bunch of home release stuff into a single one-size-fits-all document. That apparently included restrictions commonly placed on prisoners still in prison, but not one routinely foisted upon them once they're no longer under the guardianship of the state's correctional facilities.

That was the only comment given by the state on the issue, leaving unanswered questions about any vetting of the document before release or who might have greenlit the violation of released prisoners' rights.

It's not as though many temporarily furloughed prisoners will have much of an opportunity to talk to the media. The restrictions forbid leaving their homes for anything but a medical emergency and requires twice-a-day check-ins. It also forbids them from opening bank accounts, securing loans, operating vehicles, or getting married while they're under house arrest.

While it's good to see the unconstitutional ban on talking to the media was quickly excised once state officials were made aware of it, it's concerning that no one presiding over the temporary release took a better look at the restrictions before making them official.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, covid-19, early release, free speech, journalism, new jersey, prisons


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2020 @ 3:19pm

    So two questions:

    Are they releasing only the folks who test positive? (Or perhaps "Also those who were housed close to said people"?)

    And how many of these inmates would be getting released anyway because even if their trial date came up, they'd be sentenced to "time served" because they'd been held captive longer than the typical sentence for their crime anyway?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bergman (profile), 27 Apr 2020 @ 3:26pm

    Non-judicial is non-enforceable

    A corrections officer does not have the authority to impose a gag order, only a legislature or judge can do that. Nobody is required to obey an illegal order.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Norahc (profile), 27 Apr 2020 @ 4:11pm

      Re: Non-judicial is non-enforceable

      A corrections officer does not have the authority to impose a gag order, only a legislature or judge can do that. Nobody is required to obey an illegal order.

      Great epitaph on a tombstone, "Killed for not obeying an illegal order."

      A lack of legal authority has never stopped a law enforcement official from enforcing whatever they want.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2020 @ 6:48pm

        Re: Re: Non-judicial is non-enforceable

        A lack of legal authority has never stopped a law enforcement official from enforcing whatever they want.

        Like they say: “You might beat the rap, but you won't beat the ride.”

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2020 @ 4:15pm

      Re: Non-judicial is non-enforceable

      a gag order, only a legislature or judge can do that.

      Only if they're willing to ignore the First Amendment (as they often do).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 27 Apr 2020 @ 3:26pm

    Hmm, I'm don't really see the problem for those with convictions continuing to serve their sentence.

    For federal prisoners the Bureau of Prisons decides how and where they will serve their sentences. They can unilaterally decide that a prisoner's status can be lowered to home detention, but impose prison-like restrictions on that detention. If the norm in prison is that talking to the press requires prior permission, they can presumably continue that restriction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2020 @ 3:59pm

      Re:

      1. A lot of people in prison are not convicted, just "held" indefinitely, which is pretty much a Constitutional violation already. Reform the bail system.

      2. Suspending First Amendment rights of prisoners is also pretty much unConstitutional as well. If they are otherwise accessible, they should be able to speak their minds to media or whomever.

      3. The prison system is largely inhumane, corrupt, and unConstitutional anyway. So is the justice system.

      So, hmmm, i do have a problem with all that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RagstoRogseriffic, 28 Apr 2020 @ 11:41am

    this is High Policing in action

    High Policing is when cops spread disinformation, or otherwise target individuals with false, bad, or other disinformation that causes those individuals to lose time, money , and effort.

    Classic sand in the wheel from official sources, targeting our civil liberties.

    Sheriffs departments, cops, and public sector unions do NOT serve any human beings that I can identify.

    Totally self-interested, totally self perpetuating bankster backed criminals with badges.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tanner Andrews (profile), 9 May 2020 @ 2:56pm

    So much for speedy trial

    With courts handling fewer cases than usual, jailings have become more indefinite than usual while awaiting trial.

    In Florida, the Supreme Court has effectively abolished speedy trial. No one gets a jury trial before July, and depending on the charges you may get to stay in jail until whenever before you even get a hearing to decide if you have to stay in jail.

    Smart criminal defense attys are surely spending the time until then filing 3.191(b) demands and being sure that their files are ready to go.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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