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New Jersey’s Early Release Program For Convicts Stirs Up Controversy

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CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) – There are serious questions about New Jersey’s early release program after a second murder – this one in Camden – is linked to the early release of prisoner.
 
Authorities say Jeremiah Johnson, 17, was shot and killed last month at Mt. Ephraim Ave. and Morton St. in Camden by Brandon Johnson, 24.  Brandon Johnson would still have been in prison on weapons charges – his sentence ran until June – but he was released in January under early release.
 
A murder under similar circumstances occurred in Jersey City this month, officials say.
 
“My heart goes out to the families of the people murdered,” said State Senator Diane Allen (R, Burlington County).  “I don’t blame anyone for this.  I just think we need to change the law.”
 
She introduced a bill this week to repeal the early release program, which was signed by Gov. Jon Corzine at the very end of his term and which took effect last year.
 

The program lets some prisoners, who might not be eligible for parole, out of prison six months before the end of their sentence.  They are then placed under supervised parole.  Supporters say the goal is to reduce the cost of incarceration and help non-violent offenders transition to free life.
 
Governor Chris Christie harshly criticized the program last week saying it’s killing people.
 
Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D, Mercer County) is a chief supporter.
 
“This is really, very very sad,” she said of the murders.  “But this is not about legislation … legislation doesn’t kill people.”
 
Watson Coleman says the real issue is the layoffs of police officers in New Jersey’s cities caused by Gov. Christie’s budget cutbacks. 
 
“These communities where these crimes occurred are not as safe as they were,” she said. 

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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