Joseph J. Russo, First Assistant Public Defender, New Jersey Office of the Public Defender
Alicia Hubbard, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, New Jersey Office of the Public Defender
Wednesday, April 12
This event was recorded and the video will be posted here soon.
Presumptive parole is often championed as a significant policy shift to reform parole systems. In a “presumptive parole” state, the law establishes release on parole, rather than continued confinement, as the default outcome of any individual’s parole process. This presumption means that incarcerated individuals are supposed to be released at their earliest parole eligibility unless the Parole Board finds concrete reasons not to release them. This approach shifts the burden of proof at parole hearings: the person seeking parole does not have the burden to prove they are ready for release—rather, the Parole Board has the burden to prove the person is not ready for release because of a specific risk to public safety.
New Jersey is an outlier among states, having had a presumptive parole system in place since 1979. New Jersey law also requires the Parole Board to refrain from considering the adequacy of punishment in decision-making; their review is limited to objective criteria about a person’s likelihood of committing a new crime if released. But data from New Jersey suggest that the legal presumption of parole may exist in name only. In 2021, the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender published a report about parole in New Jersey, showing among other issues that in recent years the majority of people eligible for parole were not released at their first opportunity despite the legal presumption. As The Sentencing Project has shown previously, this is especially true for people serving life sentences. We were joined by Joseph Russo and Alicia Hubbard of the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender to talk about New Jersey’s presumptive parole system—what the data show, what in the system works and what doesn’t, and how their office is litigating toward parole improvements that promote fairness and safety for all.
Joseph J. Russo was appointed to the position of First Assistant Public Defender following his promotion from Assistant Public Defender. Joe served as the Deputy Public Defender (managing attorney) of the OPD state-wide Appellate Section for four years and served as the Deputy Public Defender in the Hudson Trial Region for seven years. Joe worked for many years in the Somerset and Warren Trial Regions, which included serving as the Deputy Public Defender. He is the only public defender in OPD history to serve as a managing attorney of the Appellate Section and trial regions.
In addition to extensive trial experience, Joe has argued many important cases before the Supreme Court and Appellate Division. He argued State v. Andujar, an historical case in which the Supreme Court called for a Judicial Conference on Jury Selection. He argued State v. Carter, where the police were racially profiling motorists for having “Garden State” blocked on license plates. Joe successfully argued State v. S.S. before the Supreme Court, where the Court changed the standard of review in video-taped confession cases. He argued State v. Comer on behalf of amicus curiae OPD in which the Supreme Court held that juveniles sentenced to a mandatory thirty years in prison for murder are entitled to “look back” hearings. Joe successfully argued State v. Thomas before the Appellate Division which extended the holding of Comer to juveniles sentenced to lengthy prison terms. He argued the most significant parole case in New Jersey history, Sundiata Acoli v. N.J.S.P.B., on behalf of amicus curiae OPD.
Joe was named the 2017 Criminal Lawyer of the Year by the Hudson County Bar Association. He is the founder and co-chair of the state-wide Parole Project, co-chair of the Amicus Committee, co-chair of the Miller/Comer/Thomas Resentencing Committee, and for several years co-chaired the Forensic Science Work Group. Joe serves on the Board of Trustees of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey, is a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association Working Group on Jury Selection and is a long-standing member of the Supreme Court Model Criminal Jury Charge Committee.
Alicia J. Hubbard serves as Assistant Deputy Public Defender in the Lifer Group/Parole Project of the NJ Office of the Public Defender (OPD). After earning her degree from Bennett College, she attended the Howard University School of Law where she later served as Special Assistant to the Dean. Ms. Hubbard went on to serve in the Cumberland Vicinage of the Superior Court of New Jersey as law clerk to the Honorable Julio L. Mendez. In 2003, she joined the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender where she has served as both trial and appellate counsel and argued significant cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court concerning illegal searches and seizures, the right to remain silent, and the improper prosecutorial use of experts in drug cases. Her current work focuses on gaining sentencing relief for young people sentenced as adults and obtaining release opportunities for those sentenced to life behind bars or other lengthy terms of incarceration and supervision. Ms. Hubbard's practice is informed by the words of the great civil rights attorney and iconic dean of the historic Howard University School of Law, Charles Hamilton Houston, who explained that, “A lawyer’s either a social engineer or … a parasite on society … A social engineer [is] a highly skilled, perceptive, sensitive lawyer who [understands] the Constitution of the United States and [knows] how to explore its uses in the solving of problems of local communities and in bettering conditions of the underprivileged citizens.”
Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator of the Myths of Public Safety speaker series. Prior to joining PCJ, Katy spent four years as a legal fellow and then staff attorney at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, a research and policy institute at Harvard Law School.
The Myths of Public Safety speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.