One of the exciting things about working with justice systems around the country is having the opportunity to see at close range how changes in policy can immediately impact the system.

Last year, the state of New Jersey implemented criminal justice reform through a non-monetary bail program, The Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act, which provides new pretrial services to supervise low-risk defendants pending trial. While working on a county and courts master plan that required me to monitor this policy change, I reviewed Peter McAleer's assessment of the statistical report on the first three months of the program and its effectiveness.


How Non-Monetary Bail Works

Although many people associate jail with punishment, the real reason for pretrial detention is to ensure defendants will appear for trial, and to protect the community (and those individuals) in the interim. Pretrial detention should only be used if there is a risk of flight or if the defendant poses a danger to someone. Incarceration as punishment occurs post-adjudication, upon sentencing.

The idea of non-monetary bail is a new concept around the country, and usually pairs community service with some kind of supervision to offer a non-jail option for defendants who do not pose a risk to the community or to themselves pending trial, but who would otherwise be incapable of making bail. House arrest is also a possible condition of release. Using a non-monetary bail alternative removes the possibility of a "poverty bias" in the use of bail and reduces the high cost to jurisdictions of incarcerating individuals who do not require it.

First Quarter Impact

The Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act in New Jersey went into effect in January 2017, and the first three months of criminal justice reform data yielded successful results. Of the 10,193 initial appearances held during that first three-month period, only 2,256 had motions filed for detention. Of those, only 1,262 were detained—a monetary savings of 994 bed days times the average pretrial length of stay in New Jersey times the per inmate cost of incarceration—usually $65 to $80 per day.

Not only did the county save money, the arrestees also avoided potential costly disruption to their jobs and lives from a lengthy incarceration—a repercussion that used to be part of the price of breaking the law, but which is now understood to adversely impact a much wider socio-economic circle than just the defendant. Of those sent to the new pretrial services program, only 12.4 percent had been detained by March 31, 2017 (I assume by new charges). The other 87.6 percent were successfully awaiting trial, either released on their own recognizance or under supervision.

The program is off to a strong start and some fine tuning will see that the correct individuals are detained, helping to improve these statistics even more. As stated in the first quarter review, the program has proven to be a success with the smooth implementation of enacting change to a system that has been in place for more than 70 years. I am interested and hopeful to see how New Jersey's success with its criminal justice reform program will influence other states' pretrial options.