Of the many things that seemed to be mismanaged during the pandemic, New Jersey’s handling of the prison population left a lot to be desired.

When inmates were being released early due to fear of the virus spreading within prison walls, our show took calls on the subject on various occasions. One thing stuck with me. Corrections Officers called in to tell us how keeping inmates on lockdown in their cells could have been used to avoid the spread.

But it was not.

Instead prisoners were allowed most of their usual routine, gathering in common areas, which of course did nothing to curb the spread. At least this is what we were told on multiple occasions and it seemed to ring true. Old folks could be made to remain isolated in their rooms in nursing homes with no visits from family allowed but god forbid we not let convicts gather to play cards.

What did they do instead? They began letting inmates out early on COVID release. One such inmate, Ronny L. Paden of Delran, was serving five years for aggravated assault and weapons convictions. He ended up serving less than half that. He was released from South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton on November 4, 2020.

Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office says that on Jan. 24, 2021, Paden gunned down two men in Edgewater Park. According to authorities, one victim was shot in a parked car while the other victim was in a nearby house.

Paden was charged with two counts of murder, along with conspiracy to commit murder and three weapons offenses according to authorities.

These murders happened only 81 days after Ronny L Paden’s early release. It seems to me New Jersey was so focused on keeping COVID from spreading in prison systems that it failed to consider the consequences of letting potentially dangerous people out too soon.

Who agrees with me? Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina. He told NJ.com, “While no one wants state inmates or detainees placed at undue medical risk, the data suggests that inmates are no more likely to die of COVID-19 than any other New Jersey resident.

"Due to ‘COVID credits’ applied to his sentence, this defendant and many other inmates have been released early from duly-imposed sentences without any individualized consideration of the crime for which they were convicted or the risk that they will resume their criminal activities.”

Why were healthy prisoners released early yet COVID-sick elderly were sent back to hunker down in nursing homes? Don’t hold your breath waiting for an answer from this governor.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.

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