⚫ Officials say for too long, clemency has been based on who prisoners know

⚫ Gov. Murphy's executive order makes a first-of-its-kind move for the state

⚫ Specific categories of offenders will receive priority consideration for clemency

NEWARK — Certain offenders in New Jersey are moving up in line to possibly receive forgiveness for their crime or a shortened prison sentence.

On Wednesday afternoon, to mark the Juneteenth federal holiday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order creating a new clemency program for granting legal relief to prisoners in a more accessible and equitable manner.

"We are embracing a new thoughtful and fair approach for identifying New Jerseyans who deserve a second chance," Murphy told a crowd at Saint James A.M.E. Church.

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy signs an executive order that launches a clemency initative. (RICH HUNDLEY III)
NJ Gov. Phil Murphy signs an executive order that launches a clemency initative. (RICH HUNDLEY III)

Murphy's order creates a Clemency Advisory Board. A first for the state, the board is tasked with considering individual applications for pardons and sentence commutations, and making recommendations to the governor.

"I want to be abundantly clear," said Justin Dews, chair of the volunteer board. "Our work will be grounded in fairness and not influence. Clemency is not reserved for the favored and well-connected."

As part of the executive order, certain categories of applications will receive expedited review while Murphy is still in office. Individuals who may receive priority consideration include survivors of sexual violence who are incarcerated for committing a crime against their perpetrator, as well as folks serving an "excessive trial penalty" for rejecting a plea deal and asserting their right to go to trial.

RELATED: Murphy says ex-cons should be able to serve on juries

"At this moment, here in New Jersey, there are thousands of our neighbors living in incarceration, many of whom have been denied the justice they deserved," Murphy said.

According to the ACLU of New Jersey, categorical clemency is an underutilized tool in the Garden State. A hundred or so have been granted in the state since 1994.

"Clemency can be a chance to correct injustices in our flawed criminal legal system, it can be an opportunity to demonstrate the need for systemic change, and it can be a tool to end mass incarceration," said Amol Sinha, ACLU-NJ executive director.

The state's prison population has been cut by 50% since 2011, the group notes.

To go with the new executive order, New Jersey has launched a website for those seeking information about the clemency initiative.

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