In advance of special session, Christie again urges N.J. lawmakers to approve bail changes

 Flanked by Camden Mayor Dana Redd, left, and Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday makes a pitch for changes to New Jersey's bail system. (Phil Gregory/ WHYY)

Flanked by Camden Mayor Dana Redd, left, and Trenton Mayor Eric Jackson, Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday makes a pitch for changes to New Jersey's bail system. (Phil Gregory/ WHYY)

While Gov. Chris Christie said he understands some New Jersey may be unhappy about having their summer vacation interrupted by a special session Thursday, he said action on changes to the state’s bail system cannot wait.

The governor is urging the Legislature to act on a constitutional amendment allowing judges to deny bail for violent offenders. And he’d like the Senate and Assembly to approve a measure permitting the release of low-level offenders without requiring them to post bail.

The changes, which were recommended by the state Supreme Court, have bipartisan support.

Allowing violent and repeat offenders who post bail to go free poses a danger to the community, the governor has argued. And forcing defendants charged with minor crimes to remain incarcerated because they cannot afford bail is unfair and costly, he said.

“We simply can’t allow the safety of our communities and the fair treatment of nonviolent and low-income offenders to continue to be the victim of politics and procrastination,” Christie said Wednesday.

Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who participated in a State House news conference with Christie, said if lawmakers don’t approve the changes, some violent offenders who are released on bail will commit more crimes.

“The danger of the delay is another lost life,” she said. “It’s another home invasion, and our citizens do not deserve this.”

Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto, who said lawmakers could wait until next year to get the proposed amendment on the ballot because it would not be implemented until 2017, has said he the measures merit more consideration and a vote should not be rushed.

But supporters say that would mean a further delay of the two years the court system needs to make the changes.

Lawmakers should act now because the court system needs two years to prepare, said Roseanne Scotti, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

“It’s going to help a lot of people, it’s going to save money, but they do need time to get that geared up,” she said Wednesday. “So pushing this back another year just means we’ll be pushing back another three years because they’re still going to need that two year time frame to get set up.”

Some analysts have suggested the governor’s timing on the push for bail changes is linked to presidential ambitions.

Monday is the deadline for lawmakers to act.

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