Gov. Chris Christie’s office sharply criticized veteran Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) today, accusing her of jeopardizing public safety by reneging on a promise to alter legislation allowing early release of certain inmates.
"Your conduct is nothing short of irresponsible," Chief Counsel Jeffrey Chiesa wrote to Coleman. "The safety of our fellow citizens has been greatly endangered due to your failure to fix the problems with your legislation."
In his letter, Chiesa said Coleman made promises to both former Gov. Jon Corzine, who signed the original legislation, and Christie, who signed another bill pushing back its implementation until today.
Coleman said Christie’s office is wrong and is trying to "bully" her into changing legislation that isn’t problematic.
"I take offense to it," she said. "It’s very disrespectful."
When Corzine signed Coleman’s legislation on Jan. 18, his last day in office, he said in a signing statement he expected the early release provision would be removed through future legislation "to clarify legislative intent."
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He wrote: "I approve this bill with the expectation . . . that this provision will not become effective."
Coleman said her agreement with Corzine was that the legislation would be clarified to prevent any inmates being released before their parole eligibility date.
Upon further review, the legislation does not allow that and does not need alterations, she said.
"There are no unintended consequences," Coleman said.
When Christie signed a bill pushing back the implementation of Coleman’s legislation from May 1 to today, he said in a signing statement it should have been vetoed originally.
Christie wrote that Coleman had pledged to introduce new legislation to prevent inmates from being released early automatically. Coleman said she never made any such promise, but Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said her office agreed to the signing statement.
The early release provision, which allows certain inmates to be released on parole six months before their sentence ends, is part of a bill mandating more job training and educational programs in prisons. Inmates serving mandatory minimums or in prison for certain sex crimes would not be eligible. About 1,500 inmates could be released before their sentences end as early as Jan. 1, 2011, according to Chiesa.
"The risk to the public’s safety are real, substantial and unjustified," Chiesa wrote.
Coleman fired back, saying the legislation requires the Parole Board to keep an eye on high-risk inmates who would otherwise be released unsupervised.
"The public safety should be enhanced," she said. "I would never sponsor legislation I thought would have a negative impact on public safety."
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I still think it's funny she's permitted to have anything to do with Corrections...since her two sons were only recently released within the last few years, from extended stays in a state correctional facility...it's not shocking that she errs on the side of the poor inmates...