Overhaul of N.J. bail system sought

A New Jersey Supreme Court committee is calling for major changes to improve the state’s criminal justice system.

The committee recommended replacing the current money-based bail system with one that assesses risks to determine whether defendants can be released while awaiting trial.

While it would cost millions of dollars to start and operate a pretrial services agency to assess and supervise defendants, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said millions would be saved by housing fewer defendants in county jails.

“Right now there are about 9,000 defendants held in custody (before trial) on any given day, and we anticipate that there would be a need to hold 50 percent fewer inmates with these reforms,” Rabner said Thursday.

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The committee also proposed a constitutional amendment to allow pretrial detention of defendants if it’s likely they would flee or be a danger to others.

Now, Rabner said, wealthy defendants who can post high bails are released even if they pose a serious flight risk.

On the other hand, those without means are at a disadvantage on several fronts, he said.

“Poor defendants are cut off from families. They can lose their jobs. They may go without medication,” Rabner said. “They face tougher plea offers, pressure to plead guilty because of the amount of time they’ve already spent in jail, and they invariably serve longer sentences when compared to similar defendants who’ve been able to make bail.”

The committee also urged lawmakers to pass legislation that would speed the process of getting a case from arrest to trial.

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