N.J. considers hiring 20 judges to help get new bail system up and running

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, who previously supported a

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, who previously supported a "millionaires tax," says changes to U.S. tax policy make it a last resort. (AP file photo)

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney has proposed adding 20 new judges to help implement bail system changes that will take effect in January.

The Assembly Speaker and Gov. Chris Christie support his plan to spend $9.3 million to create the new judicial positions, Sweeney said Monday.

“This will ensure that the system that we put in place — that the voters supported — will move forward in a way that’s efficient so that people that are poor shouldn’t be stuck in jail, people that are bad shouldn’t get out on bail,” he said.

The overhaul approved in 2014 calls for basing pretrial release decisions on a risk assessment instead of a defendant’s ability to put up bail money.

Carlos Hendricks with the Latino Action Network said cash-based bail systems are not fair.

“People with money can buy their freedom while those without money, unfortunately poor and people of color, are left to rot in cages just because they cannot afford as little as a couple hundred dollars,” he said.

The average length of incarceration for pretrial inmates in the state is now more than 10 months.

Judge Glenn Grant, the acting administrative director of New Jersey Courts, said even a few days behind bars can have a big impact on low-income defendants.

“If you’re in very limited housing and you then are away for a week, two weeks, three weeks, that could have a dramatic effect,” Grant said. “It could have an effect about employment because you may be in a marginal employment situation and just being away from you job for two, three, four days could have significant impact.”

Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the courts are prepared for the new system, and the Senate won’t act on a measure advanced by an Assembly committee earlier this month that would continue to allow cash bail for some charges.

“We haven’t even taken the training wheels off this year, and we’re not going to go back and put a cash bail situation in place, which is what caused us to warehouse so many people because they’re poor,” Sweeney said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.