Assembly approves bail reform measures

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STATE  – By a vote of 53-7-9, the General Assembly on Monday granted final legislative approval to legislation that will allow voters to overhaul the criminal justice process by changing the bail system.

The legislation has already passed in the State Senate and will now go to Governor Chris Christie’s desk for consideration.

Christie irritated lawmakers with his demand to convene the legislature for a special session ahead of a scheduled campaign stop in New Hampshire, as the governor’s presidential ambition complicated deal-making between Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32)

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 non-financial alternatives for release.

“We cannot afford to allow the current system to continue,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Union), one of the resolution’s sponsors. “There is near universal agreement that it doesn’t work. We see violent repeat offenders back on our streets too soon, while others wait in jail for months on end for their trial. Common sense reform like this is very clearly needed.”

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.

“This is an enormous victory for justice, fairness and public safety,” said Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey director for the Drug Policy Alliance, part of a 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.”


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