Justice is Served? Advocates Say NJ’s New Bail Laws Get an ‘A’
New Jersey has significantly changed the way pre-trial justice was handled in the Garden State.
The law that went into effect in January did away with the former bail system. Instead, courts are required to do pre-trial assessments of individuals charged with crimes and have them released from custody unless a compelling reason is found to keep them behind bars — for example, to either make sure they showed up for trial or to assure public safety.
A new report finds the dramatic change in New Jersey’s pre-trial justice system has worked well.
According to Cherise Fanno Burdeen, the CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute, the state of pre-trial justice in America can best be described as dismal, but New Jersey is the only state in the nation to be awarded a grade of A for implementing comprehensive reforms.
She noted factors considered in determining a state’s grade were rates of unnecessary detention, whether the court systems in states are using pre-trial assessment tools to decide who should and should not be detained, and whether courts are continuing to use a monetary system that allows those accused of crimes to post bond to secure their release from jail.
“What we’re seeing after almost 11 months of implementation in New Jersey is the jail population has gone down about 30 percent,” she said. “I think next year you’ll see an even larger reduction in the jail population."
Eight states received a grade of B, ten states got a C, 13 states were given a D and 17 states, more than a third of the nation, received a grade of F in the report.
Not everyone is a fan of the new bail reform laws, which were designed to allow judges to keep defendants accused of serious violent crimes locked up before trial regardless of their ability to afford bail. But some law enforcement officials and bail bondsmen say that suspects have been released from custody only to commit new crimes within days or hours of their initial arrest.
Despite arguments from critics that the new law is placing communities at risk, crime data compiled by the State Police show that violent and nonviolent offenses have not increased this year.
Months after the law went into effect, the Attorney General’s Office issued new guidelines to make sure prosecutors sought to keep defendants accused of serious gun crimes, as well as those with histories of sex offenses, behind bars through their trials.
According to state court statistics released at the end of August, prosecutors this year have made more than 11,600 requests to keep defendants locked up. Judges have granted detention requests for more than 17 percent of all defendants.
Burdeen says allowing lower income people to be released from jail pending trial without posting bail is especially important because the three factors that keep people stable in the community —jobs, family and housing — are easier to accomplish when individuals who should not be in jail pre-trail are allowed to be released pre-trial.
“It means you are able to keep your job, you’re able to keep supporting your family, paying your rent or mortgage while you’re taking care of your obligation with the court.”