One of government’s primary responsibilities is to protect the public. There isn’t an elected official in New Jersey who would take issue with that position.

Two tragic killings over the last two months, one in Camden County and the other in Hudson County, have rightfully drawn our attention to a law that needs to be changed – sooner rather than later.

The shootings were allegedly committed by former prisoners let go through the early release provision in a law signed by Gov. Corzine on his last day in office in 2010. The new law stipulates that certain inmates can be released six months prior to the end of their sentence under supervision by a parole officer, without the need for a hearing.

The lessons learned from the facts surrounding these homicides are painful and require that the Legislature work in haste to eliminate the flaw in this law before another heartbreaking incident occurs.

As an assemblyman and former police officer, I have first-hand experience dealing with the policy issues of public safety and parole. I have also delivered devastating news to parents and families about their loved ones. While rehabilitating those serving prison terms and reducing the likelihood of their return to incarceration after completing their sentence is a laudable goal, we must always recognize that protecting our citizens is our first responsibility and trumps all else.

It is not Monday morning quarterbacking to call for repeal of the early release provision. It would be irresponsible not to.

On March 18, I announced my intention to introduce legislation in the Assembly that would accomplish this public policy change which is also sponsored by my Republican colleague Bob Schroeder, who represents portions of Bergen County.

In addition to my bill, on March 31, Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed legislation (S-2308/A-3355), that was primarily designed to lengthen the time interval between an inmate’s parole hearings. As part of his veto message the governor included an amendment that does away with the early release program.

It is encouraging that there seems to be bipartisan support for this change. On the day the governor issued his conditional veto, Senate President Steve Sweeney indicated he believes this is an important issue and would deal with it as soon as possible. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said the program needs to be changed and this provision in the law should be “re-examined.” One of the bill’s sponsors in the Senate, Sen. Loretta Weinberg, said she believes the governor’s changes “sound reasonable.”

We have learned some painful lessons about this defect in the law. Those who argue the limited number of offenses committed by inmates receiving an early release haven’t had to bring the worst news any parent, sibling or friend wants to hear. One tragedy is too many. We cannot rationalize the loss of a life as a percentage or statistic that justifies early release.

Whether the bill which moves through the Legislature is the one sponsored by Assemblyman Schroeder and myself, or approving the conditionally vetoed legislation that was returned by Gov. Christie, our ultimate goal must be expediency, not politics.

Dave Rible
Assemblyman, 11th District