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New Jersey's "No Early Release Act": Its Impact on Prosecution, Sentencing, Corrections, and Victim Satisfaction, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
117 pages
This study examined the impact of New Jersey’s “No Early Release Act” (NERA) on prosecutorial discretion, sentencing, the correctional system, and victims of crime.
New Jersey’s NERA, which became law in June 1997, prohibits parole boards from releasing felons convicted of violent crimes before they have served at least 85 percent of their sentence. The authors hypothesized that the Act would have little impact on the New Jersey justice system or on victims’ satisfaction with sentences. The third hypothesis stated that among violent felons required to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, prison disciplinary infractions would increase because the incentive of early release had been removed. Data sources include interviews with prosecutors and judges; observations at local prosecutors’ offices concerning charging, plea negotiations, sentencing recommendation practices, and guilty pleas; and surveys completed by judges and victims of violent crime. Results of qualitative and statistical analysis revealed support for the first two hypotheses but did not confirm the third regarding prison disciplinary infractions. Specifically, the authors found that prosecutors did not change their bargaining practices to allow guilty pleas to less serious offenses in order to get around NERA. Furthermore, while typical prison sentences became longer, the amount of guilty pleas remained stable and the number of trials did not increase. To probe whether disciplinary infractions increased as a result of NERA, comparisons were made between the rate of incidents of violence committed by NERA-sentenced prisoners versus inmates sentenced before NERA. Results indicate that inmates sentenced under NERA actually committed less disciplinary infractions than did there non-NERA counterparts. In terms of victim satisfaction with sentencing, before and after measures of victim’s satisfaction with sentences and with the justice system in general found that NERA did not raise satisfaction among victims. In fact, the authors note a decline in victim satisfaction following NERA, but describe this finding as happening “by chance.” Finally, the results indicate that NERA did increase the amount of time served by the most violent felons, but not as much as the 85 percent statistic would suggest. As such, New Jersey prisons are not overflowing with inmates who must serve a minimum of 85 percent of their sentence. Bibliography

Date Published: January 1, 2003