More than 2,200 inmates were freed in New Jersey Wednesday in one of the biggest single-day prisoner releases in American history. The inmates were released under a new law that awards inmates within a year of release up to eight months off their sentences in "public health emergency credits" for serving time during the coronavirus crisis or a future public health crisis like it, CNN reports. Almost 1,000 other state inmates were released under a COVID-related executive order in January and more than 1,000 others will be released early in the next few months, cutting the state's prison population by more than a third, reports the New York Times. Prisoners serving time for murder or aggravated assault and those deemed "repetitive, compulsive sex offenders" are not eligible for early release under the law.
State authorities say the released inmates will be provided with state ID cards to access social services, and hundreds without permanent addresses will be placed in shelters. A source told NJ.com, however, that some inmates were immediately picked up by ICE. At least 52 New Jersey inmates have died from COVID-19. More than 3,000 inmates and 1,000 prison employees have been infected. Johnnice Hamilton, who was released from the Edna Mahan women's prison Wednesday, told NJ.com that the virus killed at least two of her fellow inmates, including one who died in front of her. "It was horrible," Hamilton says. "I remember her yelling and telling them she couldn’t breathe. I remember them not going to her right away." (Read more New Jersey stories.)