The Reformed New Jersey Bail System: Is It Working?
Back in November, we discussed the major changes that were coming to the bail system in New Jersey. The plan was to replace cash bail with a system that allows judges to use an algorithm to assess whether a defendant presents a flight risk or danger to the community when deciding bail. Similar to the federal system and the one that currently is in place in Washington, D.C., the switch is supposed to alleviate the overflow in the state’s jails. The bill, known as the Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act, was approved by the New Jersey Legislature and in January, the changes were made.
So, how’s it going? Depends on who you ask.
The Press of Atlantic City reports that as of March 31, 2,400 fewer people were in jail awaiting trial as compared to the previous year. According to NJ.com, there were 3,600 cases between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14 and although prosecutors moved to have 945 of those cases to be locked up until trial, judges had granted on 54 percent of those requests.
However, both law enforcement and county governments are complaining about the bail reform’s impact. Law enforcement believes that judges are letting those who should be behind bars walk free while waiting for trial. Opponents of the reformed New Jersey bail system state that defendants who were arrested on mid-level offenses are being released, only to be re-arrested for another crime, and then released again. For example, the case of Christopher Wilson, a convicted sex offender. He was accused of soliciting sex from a 12-year-old. Ocean County prosecutors tried to keep him in jail but the judge had ordered him to be free, as long as he stayed away from the girl. In response,
For example, take the case of Christopher Wilson, a convicted sex offender. He was recently accused of soliciting sex from a 12-year-old. Ocean County prosecutors tried to keep him in jail but the judge had ordered him to be free, as long as he stayed away from the girl. In response, the Little Egg Harbor police went door to door in an effort to warn neighbors of Wilson. This also lead to police chiefs from Ocean City to call for an injunction against the law.
County officials are having issues with New Jersey bail system reform as well. Many officials say the costs are adding up — New Jersey counties are increasing staffing for county courts and prosecutors to allow for a speedier trial and quicker processing. Before the reform was made into law, a study performed by the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University said the overhaul would could more than $215 million. And then there’s the bail industry, which is suffering an economic blow.
So is the system working? Only time will tell.