With the Presidential election campaign in full swing, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie made sure that he wasn't ignoring the needs of his constituents. In proposed changes to two bills that impact anyone involved with the criminal justice system, Gov. Christie put his support behind a re-entry program to assist incarcerated victims of domestic abuse as well as a streamlined process for expungement of criminal records.
There are a unique set of challenges faced by victims of domestic violence who are convicted of crimes against their abusers. New Jersey Senate Bill number 995 seeks to setup a community re-entry program to allow for these victim-offenders to be assimilate back into society upon release while also ensuring they are never victimized again.
Gov. Christie previously conditionally vetoed the bill, asking that the program be established and run by the Department of Corrections. When vetoing the bill, Gov. Christie made it clear that he "sincerely support[s] its objective." Gov. Christie continued, stating "domestic violence is tragic, and victims deserve support and counseling. However, the bill conflates the statutory and regulatory responsibilities of the Department of Corrections and the State Parole Board, combining the agencies' separate residential program functions. Accordingly, I suggest minor amendments, in accordance with the intent of the legislation to establish this program within the Department of Corrections, consistent with its existing reintegration programming and tailored to the specific needs of this limited inmate population."
If candidates that qualify for the re-entry program successfully complete the requirements, the bill calls for their early release. Gov. Christie, however, does not support that provision. He stated that he does not "support the creation of early release programs because they would begin to chisel away at the long-standing function of the State Parole Board. For decades, the State Parole Board has faithfully fulfilled its charge to carefully review and consider the underlying facts and circumstances of each applicant for parole. While I continue to encourage the Legislature to explore reforms that will create efficiencies in State government, I remain grounded in my believe that the review of parole applications is best accomplished through the reasoned, compassionate, experienced and individualized judgment of the State Parole Board and not through an automatic process based upon one factor."
Similarly, Gov. Christie made comments and requested changes about the Assembly Committee Substitute for Assembly Bills Numbers 206, 471, 1663, 2879, 3060, and 3108. He urged the Legislature to work quickly to approve the proposed changes. The current language of the bill states that those who successfully complete the Drug Court program can have their related criminal record expunged. It also works to make the expungement process itself more efficient.
Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, asking that the current waiting period be retained. This means people who want to expunge their criminal record, they will have to wait ten years or five years, depending on the charges. He described his reasoning by stating, "While I support breaking down barriers to employment and education for non-violent ex-offenders, I cannot endorse a bill that compromises public safety. As written, this bill would cut in half the presumptive waiting period to expunge indictable offenses, often felonies, from ten years to five years, and eliminate an important safeguard which allows a judge to consider whether granting an expungement is in the public's interest. The current public interest exception to the presumptive waiting period is an effective and efficient way to help ex-offenders combat the collateral consequences of their offense, while also ensuring that public safety is not compromised." He did suggest one compromise, however, stating that while he wanted the language of the bill to reflect the request to keep the old timelines, he did allow for a reduction from five years to three years if a court determines the expungement is in the public interest.