Legislation Mandates Pretrial Release Decisions Based on Risk, Not Access to Cash
Reforms Would Reduce Inappropriate Detention and Enhance Public Safety
Trenton, NJ—On Thursday, June 12th, the Assembly Judiciary Committee will consider Assembly Bill 1910 which would implement broadly supported reforms to the bail system in New Jersey. The hearing will convene at 10:00 am in Committee Room 12, on the 4th floor of the State House Annex.
At the moment, money bail amounts for individuals arrested in New Jersey are based on a state-wide schedule that categorically assigns values to different crimes. This encourages judges to indiscriminately impose money bail on all defendants, rather than make individualized determinations of whether monetary release is necessary to further public safety or guarantee an individual’s appearance in court.
Under the proposed legislation, arrestees would be assessed for risk and pretrial release decisions would be based on their measured risk, not their ability to pay money bail.
The bill would also implement a pending constitutional amendment allowing for the absolute detention of defendants who are truly dangerous. The existing New Jersey constitution grants all arrestees an absolute right to bail, regardless of whether release might threaten public safety.
The Senate companion bill, S946 was voted out of the Budget and Appropriations Committee on June 5th by a vote of 10-0 with 1 abstention.
Advocates argue that using money bail as the primary mechanism of pretrial release results in a socially and fiscally irresponsible system in which dangerous individuals with economic resources are able to secure release, while others who pose no threat languish behind bars awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford to pay their way out.
A 2013 jail population analysis conducted by Luminosity in partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance found that nearly 75 percent of percent of the 15,000 individuals in New Jersey jails are there pretrial, meaning they have not yet been convicted of a crime or found guilty by a jury. Nearly 40 percent of the total population is there solely because they cannot afford to pay bail and 12 percent have a bail amount of $2,500 or less. The average length of incarceration for pretrial inmates is more than 10 months.
“New Jersey’s bail system is broken,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Thousands of individuals charged with low-level offenses sit in jail for months on end simply because they don’t have the money to pay bail. They lose jobs, housing and are separated from family and community. This bill is a huge step toward fixing this broken system.”
The bill is supported by a broad coalition of community groups, faith leaders and criminal justice reform advocates.
Nicole Plett, who represents a statewide network of organizations working towards an effective criminal justice system called the Integrated Justice Alliance says, “The IJA supports real, fair, and transparent bail reform. Almost half of the individuals being held pending trial are there only because they cannot afford often nominal amounts of bail. Those with money can obtain release no matter how serious their crime or how much of a danger they pose to public safety. A1910 goes a long ways towards repairing this dangerous and ineffective system.”
“This legislation will go a long ways towards implementing a pretrial justice system that does not discriminate against marginalized populations with few resources at their disposal,” says the Reverend Errol Cooper of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset. “At the same time, there is nothing more important than protecting community safety. This bill commendably does both.”
Assembly Bill 1910 is sponsored by Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem), Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Hunterdon and Mercer), Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Bergen and Passaic), Assemblywoman Grace Spencer (D-Essex), Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex and Morris).
The Senate companion, Senate Bill 946, is sponsored by Senator Donald Norcross (D-Camden and Gloucester), Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Middlesex, Somerset and Union), Senator Peter Barnes (D-Middlesex) and Senator Brian Stack (D-Hudson).