New Jersey reports 20 percent drop in pretrial detentions following bail overhaul

(Steve Ruark/AP Photo, file)

(Steve Ruark/AP Photo, file)

Ending cash bail last year has helped created a fairer judicial system, said the administrative director of New Jersey courts. The pretrial jail population dropped 20 percent in 2017, said Judge Glenn Grant.

About 8,000 defendants who were considered unlikely to show up in court were detained, he said.

Changes to to the bail system meant defendants accused of low-risk crimes no longer have to sit in jail because they can’t afford modest bail costs, Grant said. And those who pose a significant risk of violence can’t buy their way back onto the streets.

He told lawmakers Tuesday it’s too soon to know if that means that counties will be able to cut their jail expenses.

“The question is, are these reductions long-term projections? One year of a reduction of 20 percent is not a significant enough time period, if you will, for the county to say based upon this one-year reduction, I’m going to close a pod or I’m going to reduce staffing,” said Grant.

Sen. Declan O’Scanlon said the statistics indicate the reforms are having some success.

“We know every single time someone is let out and reoffends. It’s hard to prove the number of people who are kept in the acts of violence, maybe major acts of violence, that were avoided,” said O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth.

Revenue from court filing fees is dropping, said Grant. And a dedicated source of funding is needed for the pretrial services program to help get defendants the services they need to turn their lives around.

“Expenses are projected to exceed revenues by $13 million in fiscal year 2019,” he said. “Even with large carryover balances and reserves, and strict controls over spending, our projections show the pretrial services program will run out of money by the fourth quarter of 2020.”

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