N.J. bail overhaul will need extra funding in little over a year, official says

 (Willee Cole/Bigstock)

(Willee Cole/Bigstock)

New Jersey’s new criminal justice system — in which the state all but eliminated cash bail for criminal defendants — may need a bailout from taxpayers.

The newly created pretrial services unit of the state court system will run a deficit starting next summer, said Judge Glenn Grant, the acting administrative director of the courts.

The Legislature hoped to fund the unit through a hike in court fees and eventual cost savings from a reduction in jail staff and population.

But just four months into the new paradigm, Grant said it is too early to reap savings from county jails. And court filings are slumping.

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“It’s a flawed structure,” he said, testifying before the state Senate Budget Committee Thursday.

Grant proposed funding the criminal justice changes directly through the state budget, and rerouting court fees to the state Treasury.

In January, the state virtually eliminated cash bail for criminal defendants, because officials claimed that it disadvantaged minorities and the poor. Judges now decide whether to jail people before trial based on their likelihood of committing another crime or skipping court.

The costs of the criminal justice overhaul have largely fallen to county and municipal governments, which fund court facilities, prosecutors’ offices, sheriffs’ departments, and county jails.

“It has strained resources on the county level in my office, certainly,” said Warren County prosecutor Robert Burke. “In order for us to implement bail reform in the manner that really it deserves … we don’t have the ability.”

Burke cited a 2 percent cap on property tax increases as an obstacle in dealing with the rising costs.

Despite increased costs, county prosecutors praised the changes to the state’s criminal justice system — even as they asked for more money to implement it.

Earlier this year, the state Legislature appropriated $9 million to hire 20 new judges to help usher in the new system.

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