Rev. Sara Lilja
Director Lutheran’s Engaging in Advocacy Ministry in NJ
Criminal Justice Reform Edna Mahan Women’s Prison
2022 Criminal Justice Reform Advocacy Priority
We know that the state legislature is called upon to generate policy solutions to injustice in our state. The issue of NJ’s growing elderly prison population is both an expense and an issue of justice. This is about fiscal responsibility, the public’s desire to maintain safe neighborhoods and the state’s responsibility to care for the well-being of all its residents, even those who have committed a crime. What we are asking you today is how do you understand your role in leadership to shape and move public opinion around this issue, so that the elderly are provided with the care that they need? And the public should not be burdened with untruths about ex-offenders or asked to pay for excess spending at the Dept of Corrections.
State Parole Board does not appear to take age into account in its release decisions, even while the data clearly shows that elderly persons are not likely to reoffend. This is a financial hardship and a moral outrage that we, leaders of faith communities are challenging you to address.
Prisons were not designed for elderly inmates and are not equipped to handle their special needs. Yet the war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentences and a parole system that does not tend to release people convicted of violent crimes — even when the data suggests they are unlikely to reoffend — is forcing correctional facilities to keep inmates longer and try to meet the physical and mental health needs of seniors behind bars.