Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Bail reform works | Editorial | The verdict is in: Bailing reform is working |

Bail reform works | Editorial | The verdict is in: Bailing reform is working |

When New Jersey took out cash bail four years ago, a lot of doomsday predictions surfaced. Lobbyists for the bail industry and some in law enforcement claimed that this would cause crime sprees, that if we released people, theyd go on wild rampages after a few hours in lockup, or they wouldnt show up in court without being chased down by Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Fresh data confirms that this was nonsense. According to a report released last week by the judiciary, the number of people released who were charged with new crimes while awaiting trial has remained low. This is still about 13 percent, what it was before bail reform. Its still less than 1% of the population of serious crimes, such as those involving guns. The court appearance rate is about 90 percent, just as it was under the old system.

Meanwhile, our prisons are now housed in a much greater number of dangerous people and fewer low-risk defendants trapped there because they cant afford bail essentially putting monetary burden on the poor.

Bail reform is doing exactly what it was supposed to do. We owe former Gov. Chris Christie a debt of gratitude for this. By leading this effort, which was also driven by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and the voters who approved it in a referendum, he has released several thousand low-income Black and brown inmates not convicted of any crime from our prisons, making New Jersey 'a nation's model of justice.

Taxpayers will likely see a reduction in their tax liability as well. Its been a very successful program, and were very pleased with it, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said, adding, If it continues to go the way it is, there will be efficiencies, thatll be enough, no question.

Even as the overall prison population in New Jersey increased slightly because jury trials were halted because of the epidemic, the percentage of inmates held on $2,500 or less bail dropped to 0.2 percent, or just 14 people, according to the judiciary report last year. Compared to the previous year, there were less than 1,500 inmates on cash bail than there have been since.

Imagine if all those people had been put behind bars during this epidemic instead. And the people we let out havent transformed New Jersey into the new Detroit. Dont be fooled by the whims of bail reform opponents who continue to exploit a number of unrelated variables to advance their crime spree myth.

The homicide rate is rising across the United States, coincident with COVID-19, but what were seeing in New Jersey isnt as extreme as whats happening in other states that still have cash bail. And comparing a handful of tragic cases in which if he is released on fewer charges, 'he goes on to commit murder', to describing the same thing that happened under the old cash bail system, ignores the larger truth.

Back then, anyone with money could get themselves released, even a gangbanger seeking revenge, if he could cough up enough cash to pay bail. Because they are likely to be harmed or will try to flee, people may be forced to remain locked up until their court date, without bail, because they're too dangerous to drive.

Drug lords can no longer buy their freedom. Low-risk people who are awaiting their day in court but who haven't been convicted of any crime are released. Christie signed a bill to abolish cash bail for most nonviolent defendants and establish statewide surveillance mechanisms. Judges still have the final say on whether or not a person poses hazard and must be detained, not computer algorithms. Your release no longer res based on what youve got in your wallet.

Our system should be changed as needed, and it has been: Two years ago, under the supervision of the state Attorney Generals Office, it was adjusted so that people charged with more serious gun crimes are less likely to be released. However, we are clearly achieving our primary objectives. Also, the next time youre tempted to blame societys failings on bail reform, please consult the numbers first.

Your support is critical to our journalism. Please register for NJ.com today.

Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion for future reference. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.

Tell us about your coronavirus stories, whether its a news tip, skepticism, or remorse.

You may also like: