Beginning today through September 9 prisoners across the country (17 states) are planning to launch a strike, to draw attention to poor prison conditions, dismal or sometimes nonexistent pay for incarcerated workers, and the need for sentencing reform. The goal is to punch the issues to the top of national political consciousness and agenda.” it’s in response to the riot in a prison in South Carolina where seven inmates lost their lives. I have been unable to ascertain whether NJ inmates at some point will join the strike. They appear better off than the national average, but nonetheless they share significant grievances.
NJ PRISON CONDITIONS
The State has a Corrections Ombudsman who can investigate a variety of concerns and conditions that may violate an inmate’s rights. However there is a lack of transparency with little data publicly available. One 2017 report on Southern State Correctional Facility concluded that all standards were met. A 2017 national report on state prisons indicates, NJ has been reducing its prison population, paying among the highest correction officer salaries, but “has a ways to go in fixing the racial disparity in its prisons.”
Nonetheless, at Edna Mahan in December “Two more inmates at the state’s troubled women’s prison charge they were the victims of repeated sexual assaults or abuse by several guards, and faced retaliation when they complained.” In May days after a corrections officer was found guilty of sexually abusing inmates at the prison, the State Department of Corrections announced it was cooperating with a federal investigation into conditions there.
Regarding our county jails, the ACLU/NJ currently references its cases against Passaic, Monmouth and Burlington counties. The conditions for immigrants are particularly inhumane. Deaths and suicides have been reported in Cumberland and Hudson counties. A Human Rights report indicates, detainees at three immigration detention centers in New Jersey are subject to ‘harsh and inhumane conditions,’including being denied medical care and being served food with worms and maggots.”
A 2017 Prison policy Initiative reports the salary ranges paid to inmates in prison. As seen below our salaries are higher than the national average, but our low end ranges of $0.26 and $0.38 per hour are essentially “slave wages.” Only about 6 percent of people incarcerated in state prisons earn the “higher” wages.
|Jobs in state-owned businesses
New Jersey $0.26 $2.00 $0.38 $2.00
U. S. Average $0.14 $0.63 $0.33 $1.41
NJ SENTENCING REFORMS
Here the picture is better. There have been numerous innovative reforms recently including expansion of Drug Courts and bail reform. NJ Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner says cautiously, The NJ criminal justice system is becoming more just.” While our state is circling toward decriminalization of marijuana sales (and possible legalization) Sen. Cory Booker has been one of many who want to end the war on marijuana, both nationally and locally.