Ongoing Debate Concerning NJ Bail System Reform

scale and gavel, flagIn an update concerning an ongoing debate among New Jersey Law makers about the current mechanisms governing the state’s bail system, a group of religious leaders recently appeared before a State Assembly Judiciary Committee requesting the approval of significant reforms.

On March 10th, an affiliation of religious leaders appeared before a New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee led by Chairman John McKeon and argued that the system as it exists today, which revolves primarily around money, creates an unequal opportunity for release based on the defendant’s socioeconomic status. In typical criminal cases, a judge determines bail amount during a bail hearing after assessing a variety of factors, including: the nature and degree of the charges, the existence and extent of the defendant’s prior record, and the defendant’s likelihood and ability to flee if released on bail.

According to the religious coalition’s testimony, there are many defendants who cannot meet the minimal bail amounts set in some cases, which forces them to remain incarcerated even if the judge purposefully imposes a low bail. The group, which included religious leaders from Paterson and Newark, among others, proposed that the state reform the current system to allow judges more opportunity to consider public safety when determining a defendant’s bail.

They propose a system in which defendants could be monitored by the state pending trial if they are considered to present no danger to the public. If these changes were to be implemented, an amendment to New Jersey’s Constitution would need to be approved by a majority of the state’s voters.

Those who oppose these changes cite the shift from an entirely bail-based system as a significant financial strain for taxpayers, estimating a total cost of $50 million to fully execute a plan of this kind. On the other hand, proponents of the reforms argue that the cost would be partially offset by the alleviated costs of keeping defendants who meet the criteria incarcerated before their trials. Members of the Drug Policy Alliance, who are among the supporters of these changes, cite a recent study published by their organization as evidence of this claim.

All in all, Governor Chris Christie listed New Jersey’s current bail system among the major issues in need of reform during his “State of the State” address. We will have to wait and see how this issue is ultimately resolved; however, it is clear that the current bail system is on the minds of many individuals inside and outside of politics, which may lead to significant changes in the way that bail determinations are made as well as the requirements imposed upon defendants facing criminal charges.

For more information pertaining to this matter, access the following article: Religious leaders urge NJ lawmakers to pass bail reform