Gov. Murphy announces clemency program to let some offenders seek early release from prison

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.

Chris Keating

Jun 19, 2024, 7:41 PM

Updated 25 days ago


Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order creating a Clemency Advisory Board in the state of New Jersey as the state celebrates Juneteenth. The program is designed to give those who believe they may be unjustly imprisoned or perhaps wrongly sentenced a second chance.
On a day that signifies freedom, the St. James AME Church in Newark was chosen as the location to reveal a new way for those in need to seek clemency.
Sitting in the pews of the church were family members who had loved ones imprisoned and were looking for a way out.
They heard the governor offer a new website where families can fill out an application to be viewed by a six-member Clemency Board on a rolling basis.
“We and I are looking for individuals who have been rehabilitated or could be giving back to their communities but are instead being unjustly held back by our criminal justice system,” Murphy said.
Among those the governor is talking about were people who suffered severe sentences from the war on drugs, non-violent offenders or survivors of sexual abuse who retaliated against their attacker.
“The system was not built to protect women like them. That is wrong and these survivors deserve leaders who care,” Murphy said.
The family of Natasha White hopes to fit into that category. Orin Matthews is her son.
“This is the shot that we’re gonna get. It’s the shot we’re getting,” Matthews said.
Matthews says his mother is sitting in the Edna Mahon Correctional Facility for Women, serving a 44-year sentence. She was convicted of murder after running down an ex-boyfriend with her car. But her family says she was a victim first.
“She was the victim of domestic violence, so that did play a part in it. She acted out uncontrollably,” said Matthews.
Clemency has always been around but rarely used. Data from the ACLU shows only 105 people have been granted clemency since 1994 in New Jersey.
Justin Dews has been named the chairman of the Clemency Advisory Board.
“Our work will be grounded in fairness and not influence. Clemency is not reserved for the favored and well-connected,” Dews said.
Also on hand for this announcement was Robert Williams, known by most as rapper “Meek Mill.”
He was pardoned by the governor of Pennsylvania for a probation violation related to an offense when he was a kid.
“These issues right now are catered to Black and brown [people] but anyone caught in the system and those situations you can be any color you wanted to,” Williams said.
These will be life-altering decisions by a board that will carefully consider these cases.
The governor suggested New Jersey could see some results from these first filings for clemency within six months.

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