Trenton, NJ—Today the New Jersey State Assembly passed major bail reform legislation. The legislation has already passed in the State Senate and will now go to Governor Christie’s desk for consideration. The bail reform legislation is comprised of two pieces. The first is a resolution that would put a question on the ballot for voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to allow the preventative detention of dangerous offenders (SCR128/ACR177). The second part is legislation that would implement the resolution and change the way New Jersey makes pretrial release decisions (S946/A1910). S946/A1910 would require risk assessments on higher level arrestees, mandate that release decisions be based on risk rather than resources, and encourage nonfinancial alternatives for release.
The reform was supported by a broad coalition of community, faith and criminal justice reform groups. Advocates successfully argued that using money bail as the primary mechanism for 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 to public safety languish behind bars awaiting trial simply because they cannot afford often nominal bail amounts.
A report by the Drug Policy Alliance, released last year, found that nearly 75 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. The average length of incarceration for pretrial inmates is more than ten months. Nearly 40 percent of those behind bars are there solely because they cannot afford to pay bail and 12 percent have a bail amount of $2,500 or less.
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“This is an enormous victory for justice, fairness and public safety,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which led the coalition advocating for bail reform. “Today the New Jersey legislature voted in a bi-partisan effort to fix our broken bail system. The reforms New Jersey passed today—and the way those reforms were enacted-should become a model for the nation.”