“Working as Intended”—NJ Bail Reform Drastically Cuts Jail Population

    The activists and policymakers behind the criminal justice reforms just won in New York State can look next door, to New Jersey, for the benefits they will soon reap. According to a New Jersey Judiciary annual report released on April 2, the Garden State’s bail reforms are “working as intended”—slashing the number of New Jersey residents jailed simply because they cannot afford to make bail.

    The Annual Criminal Justice Reform (CJR) Report found that the jail population is dropping, while recidivism and reappearance rates remain stable. The outcomes are a product of New Jersey judges declining, since January 2017, to issue money bail for all criminal defendants, and instead using a “risk-based system” that considers a defendant’s flight risks and threats to public safety.

    Source: “2018 Report to the Governor and the Legislature,” by New Jersey Courts

    New Jersey’s pretrial jail population has declined 43.9 percent since the end of December 2015. This, in part, is attributed to more summonses, instead of custodial arrests, being conducted. This decline reaches across the board, including to defendants of marginalized demographics: 3,000 fewer black Jersey defendants and 1,300 fewer Hispanic ones (in comparison to 1,500 fewer white individuals) have been incarcerated since the bail reform.

    “New Jersey’s criminal justice system has begun to remove inequities created by the heavy reliance on monetary bail,” said Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

    However, it still remains the case that 54 percent of the state’s jail population is black. The Judiciary intends to “examine the effect of CJR on racial disparity in the criminal justice system to ensure that all defendants are treated equally.”

    Overall, though, “This report shows that New Jersey’s historic bail reform law has been a resounding success,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a press release following the report’s release. “The end of money bail in New Jersey has increased both social justice and public safety in our state.”

    Photograph: JustLeadership USA | Description: A March 25, 2019 rally in Albany, NY supporting the end of money bail in New York state.

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