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New Jersey governor launches clemency initiative to let some offenders seek early prison release

Gov. Phil Murphy announces New Jersey clemency initiative
Gov. Phil Murphy announces New Jersey clemency initiative 01:01

NEWARK, N.J. (CBS) - New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced a historic clemency initiative on Wednesday. The new program will allow some young and nonviolent offenders, along with domestic violence victims and others, to apply to leave prison early.

The program is designed to address mass incarceration, racial injustice and parole rules that make it difficult for people to get a new start when they leave prison, supporters said. A clemency board will review petitions and make recommendations to Murphy on pardons and commutations. 

Cases that may gain expedited considerations for pardons?

  • Non-violent convictions if the convicted person has remained free from justice system involvement for "sufficient time."
  • People serving sentences that reflect an excessive trial penalty.  
  • Victims of domestic or sexual violence who are incarcerated for a crime made against the perpetrator.   

Murphy announced the order at the Saint James A.M.E. Church in Newark. He noted the significance of announcing this on Juneteenth, saying it is a pledge to make these decisions in a responsible and equity-driven way.

"As we celebrate Juneteenth and reflect on our nation's ongoing journey toward racial justice for Black and Brown Americans, I am proud to sign this executive order to help address inequities and unfairness in our system of justice in New Jersey," said Governor Murphy. "This new clemency initiative is a cornerstone of our administration's efforts to make New Jersey the state of second chances."

"Making an announcement of this magnitude in a Black Methodist church on Juneteenth is especially significant. Saint James wholeheartedly believes that all have sinned and fallen short, but there is room and appropriateness for forgiveness, love, and mercy," said Reverend Ronald Slaughter, the Senior Pastor at Saint James A.M.E. Church. "On this day that celebrates freedom, the Governor's initiative confirms that forgiveness, love, and mercy are alive in this state, paving the way for a more just and inclusive future for all."

Rapper Robert "Meek Mill" Williams and activist and entrepreneur Wallace "Wallo267" Peeples were present for the announcement. Both spent years enmeshed in the justice system in Philadelphia. Peeples said he was first arrested, for robbery, at age 11.

"Since that day, June 30, 1990, I've never been off of probation, parole, out of the system. I get out of parole in 2040," he said.

He has nonetheless found success in music, business and entertainment, he said, leading him to become a proud entrepreneur — and taxpayer — in New Jersey.

"I'm saying that to say this: The possibilities after prison are amazing," Peeples said.

Justin Dews, a lawyer who will serve as chairperson of the Clemency Advisory Board, said the process would be fair to both petitioners and victims and their families.

"Our work will be grounded in fairness and not influence. Clemency is not reserved for the favored and well-connected," Dews said. 
The board includes a designee of the attorney general, along with public members from various backgrounds. 

The board: 

  • Chair: Justin Dews, Counsel at King & Spalding
  • Attorney General's Designee: Michael Zuckerman, Deputy Solicitor General
  • Public Member: Jessica Henry, Professor of Justice Studies at Montclair State University
  • Public Member: Bishop Joshua Rodriguez, Bishop and Founding Partner of Cityline Church and Police Chaplin at Jersey City Police Department
  • Public Member: JoEllyn Jones, Founding Partner at Jones & Ortiz P.A.
  • Public Member: Ed Neafsey, Adjunct Professor at Rutgers Law School – Newark

"In New Jersey, we believe in second chances and giving our residents every opportunity to succeed," said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. "Governor Murphy's creation of a Clemency Advisory Board and plan to ensure expedited consideration for a large number of worthy applicants demonstrates this administration's commitment to those principles."

"Clemency offers a chance for individuals to accept responsibility for their actions and to learn, grow, and become contributing members of society once again," said Corrections Commissioner Victoria Kuhn.

New Jersey launched a website where people can access the application materials for executive clemency. The applications can be submitted online or by mail. 

Murphy had not granted any clemency petitions since taking office in 2018.   

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