Bail Reform and What They Didn't Tell You...
The taxpayers of New Jersey have been taken for a ride...again. This time, however, it's not just at the expense of their wallets...it's at the expense of their safety too.
In November 2015, after Governor Christie called a special session on August 4, 2015 (only one of two times he has ever done this), the citizens passed a constitutional change labeled SCR128, allowing New Jersey judges to deny bail to offenders of certain crimes. The companion to SCR128 was Amendment S964. S964 establishes new Pretrial Services and overhauls the bail system in New Jersey. Sold to the citizens as a solution to New Jersey's need for bail reform, this bill virtually eliminates commercial bail, in favor of a more kind and gentle approach...a "get out of jail free" card.
These sweeping changes to New Jerseys laws not only makes the citizens LESS SAFE but will cost the taxpayers MILLIONS.
The New Bail Reform Act was vague in its original form. It was sold to the voters of New Jersey with its main component being the constitutional change to allow judges to deny bail to certain violent offenders. In reality, judges already have this option. The Bail Schedule was designed in a way that if a judge was really concerned with any one particular defendant, he/she set the bail accordingly and often out of reach for most defendants. Additionally, even if the defendant could afford to post bond, measures are already in place where the prosecutor can request a bail hearing (based on the information required on the bail source inquiry). This measure was put in place to protect fraudulent bail being posted and to scrutinize the bondsman's decision to post the bond. Just because a defendant can afford the bail, it doesn't mean they can always post the bail.
What went wrong?
New Jersey bail, in its present form, is a largely unregulated industry. The professional bonding community actually proposed more regulation for our industry in the spirit of leveling the playing field for all bondsman and weeding out the "bad apples." Certain bonding companies were scrutinized for posting bonds with only 1% down (10% of the face amount of the bond is the allowable premium surety's can charge), yet now want to release those same defendants with a "promise" to come to court. Sound hypocritical to you? Of course it is.
Another compelling argument for legislators was the idea that the "indigent" and "poor" could not afford bail. They claimed in a study that roughly 5,000 defendants were in jail in New Jersey with $2,500 bonds or less and were only being held because they could not afford bail. First, over 300,000 people are arrested in New Jersey each year. So let me understand this...we are talking about less than 2% here? Second, I can tell you with 100% accuracy, this simply is not factual. These statistics do not take into consideration those being held on child support, multiple detainers, those serving sentences on other charges, and those that simply want to stay in jail to deal with small municipal warrants. Commercial bondsman are in the business of getting people OUT of jail...we will find a way if it makes sense. Money is rarely an issue.
The Safety of our community and the Taxpayers burden...
Releasing defendants on a "promise" will ultimately drive up the failure to appear rate to unmanageable levels. There are supporting arguments to this all over the country. The burden of apprehending these fugitives will be left to our law enforcement. More wasted tax dollars.
Where is the Accountability?
With commercial bail, there is no question as to who is accountable. It is no surprise that the most successful pretrial system is commercial bail.
So who is accountable with pretrial? Will the Pretrial Services Supervisor face any financial burden? Will they be the ones who apprehend the DUI defendant that drives in YOUR neighborhood that failed to appear? I think you know the answer.