NJ Gov. Murphy's clemency program to allow early prison release for some offenders

Gov. Phil Murphy gives State of the State address

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy used the Juneteenth holiday to announce the creation of a new clemency program, which 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.

"We, and I, are looking for individuals who have been rehabilitated or who could be giving back to their communities, but are instead being unjustly held back by our criminal justice system," Murphy said at an event Wednesday at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Newark.

"I am going to use my clemency powers as governor to remedy these injustices," he said.

Those eligible for expedited review include people who committed crimes before they turned 25 and did not reoffend. Others include victims of sexual violence or sex trafficking who committed crimes against their perpetrators; people sentenced to long sentences during the ‘War on Drugs’; people given longer-than-offered sentences after asserting their right to a trial; and nonviolent offenders nearing the end of their sentence.

Murphy, a Democrat, signed an executive order creating the program at the event, where he was flanked by rapper Robert "Meek Mill" Williams and activist and entrepreneur Wallace "Wallo267" Peeples.

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.

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