NJ Bail Reform Called a Success, System Going Broke

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Photo by Shay Sowden via Flickr

In its first year, New Jersey’s historic bail overhaul slashed by 20 percent the number of people charged with minor crimes locked up until trial because they couldn’t post bail, according to a new report from the state judiciary, says NJ.com.

The problem is that the new system is already going broke.

Last year, New Jersey all but eliminated cash bail, moving to a system where judges can order defendants jailed based in part on a risk assessment that weighs the suspect’s criminal history and the charges they face. The dramatic transformation created “a more comprehensive, reasonable, and most importantly, a fairer system of pretrial release,” says the new report.

“New Jersey has successfully transformed an antiquated money bail system into a modern, risk-based system that relies on empirical evidence to better identify the risk a defendant poses,” says Judge Glenn Grant, acting judiciary administrator.

The report warned that the new system is “simply not sustainable” and faces a “substantial annual structural deficit” because of its funding mechanism, which relies on court fees rather than the state budget. At the beginning of this year, the judiciary was spending more on the program than it was collecting in fees and is still expected to hit the wall within a year.

The findings portray an uncertain financial future for the new system, a top achievement of former Gov. Chris Christie’s administration. The changes drew broad support within state government but derision from local law enforcement and some community leaders, who argued it allowed the release of too many people accused of serious crimes.

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