New Jersey’s Prison Population Shows Marked Decline
A recent evaluation of data from the New Jersey Department of Corrections revealed fewer people are being sentenced to prison in the state over the last five years. In fact, the numbers have continued to decline over the last two decades. Since the 1990s, New Jersey has seen the largest decrease in prison inmates of any state in the country.
In 1999, there were over 31,000 people incarcerated in New Jersey. The numbers have decreased over 30% since then. Specifically, there are 19,619 total adults in prison, juveniles in detention, and people in halfway houses this year, representing an over 15% drop since 2013. As for the breakdown of these inmates by criminal offense:
- 61% were convicted of violent crimes such as homicide, aggravated assault, simple assault, robbery, kidnapping, sexual assault and other sex crimes
- 15% were imprisoned for drug crimes, including possession of CDS and drug distribution
With regard to the length of their sentences, the average prison term was 6 years. Over 1,000 were sentenced to life and 80 are serving life without parole. Almost 40% were sentenced to serve 10 or more years.
Avoiding Prison With Diversionary Programs
Although a reduction in the crime rate overall is at least partially responsible for the decrease in prison inmates, there are other factors at play. Specifically, New Jersey lawmakers have ushered in major changes in the way the state handles non-violent drug offenders and parole violations. In the realm of drug crime, the reduction in people serving time for drug offenses is greater than any other type of criminal offense. In fact, there has been a 38.2% decrease in adult males sentenced to prison for drug charges since 2013.
Now, the state uses diversionary programs like Drug Court to resolve these cases without sending people to prison. Drug Courts, which now operate in every county in the state, allow non-violent drug offenders to complete drug rehabilitation programs as opposed to going to jail. Of course, it makes more sense to send a person to drug treatment if they were likely driven to criminal behavior as a result of their addiction.
The other two areas that decreased significantly in terms of people sentenced to prison were property crimes and public policy crimes. Property offenses encompass receiving stolen property, theft, and burglary. The number of imprisoned people charged with property crimes decreased overall by 33.6% since 2013. As for public policy offenses, including juvenile crimes and family offenses such as endangering the welfare of a child and child abuse, this area saw a reduction of 33.7% in people sentenced to jail. For many of these cases, the defendants have no prior criminal record and are eligible for the Pretrial Intervention Program. By enrolling and completing PTI, these individuals are able to have the original charges dismissed, avoiding jail and a criminal conviction.
Weapons Charges Lead to More Prison Sentences
One notable area that saw an increase in the number of people incarcerated was weapons offenses. While there were 977 inmates serving time for weapons crimes in 2013, there were 1,091 in 2017. This represents an 11.7% increase. The increase in prison sentences for weapons offenses, including gun possession and unlawful possession of a weapon, is not surprising considering the strictness of New Jersey’s weapons laws.
Charged with a Felony in New Jersey?
If you have been arrested for an indictable crime, also known as a felony, you are now facing prison time in NJ. Depending on the degree of the charges, a felony in New Jersey can result in a prison sentence ranging from 18 months to 20 years. Some first degree crimes even have extended sentences of up to life in jail. Fortunately, there are numerous defense strategies that can be used to beat criminal charges. Also, you may be eligible for a diversionary program that can be used to get your charges dismissed. The important thing is understanding all of your options and having an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney who can aggressively defend your rights. For additional information and a free consultation, contact The Tormey Law Firm anytime at (201)-556-1570. We are happy to discuss your specific situation and how we can help with your case.