As reported in the Press of Atlantic City, since its implementation on Jan. 1, 2017, Bail Reform has reduced the population of pretrial inmates in jails across the state by 20.3 percent from 7,173 to 5,718, according to court records.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said the reforms are the biggest change she has seen in her 24-year career in criminal justice. “It’s changed the way we do business,” she said, adding the county hired two more assistant prosecutors to help accommodate the new workload.
However, critics of the reform, to include Newark Mayor, Ras Baraka, also contend that the new law increases the possibility that a dangerous person could be set free and is a risk to public safety. For instance, on Feb. 6, a Newark man who was released twice under the new law on domestic violence charges shot and killed his ex-girlfriend. The man, Kareem Dawson, 31, shot himself to death when police came to arrest him for the slaying. In a statement, Baraka said the law needs to be fully examined so a similar situation does not occur again. “We can’t go on losing lives like this,” Baraka said in a statement. “We need to look at the downgrading of charges by prosecutors, especially in cases of domestic violence, and to fix the serious flaws in bail reform.”
Under the new system, the decision to keep a defendant in jail is based in part on a new scanning system that brings up alleged offenders’ criminal histories and helps determine whether they are a risk to the community or a risk of fleeing before a court date.
In addition to the public safety risks, the law itself faces the possibility of collapse if more revenue is not brought in to sustain it. The law relies on funding from court fees instead of the state budget. As of the beginning of this year, the judiciary was spending more on the program than it was collecting in fees and is expected to hit the wall within a year. Because there is a 48-hour deadline to make a decision on whether an offender must stay in jail or be freed until trial, many counties have had to hire more staff in sheriff’s departments, prosecutor’s offices and courts. Courts now must be open on weekends and holidays to adhere to this deadline. However, as one can imagine, as the jail population shrinks, Counties also believe that the number of corrections officers on staff should also shrink.
We will continue to monitor this controversial social justice program and the effects that it has on public safety and public safety officers throughout the State of New Jersey.