Praising bipartisan effort, Christie signs N.J. bail overhaul

 N.J. Gov. Chris Christie signs bail reform legislation in a ceremony on the steps of Trenton's City Hall. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie signs bail reform legislation in a ceremony on the steps of Trenton's City Hall. (Phil Gregory/for NewsWorks)

Gov. Chris Christie has signed a law creating alternatives to bail for nonviolent offenders.

Democratic leaders of New Jersey’s Legislature joined the governor Monday afternoon for the bill-signing ceremony on the steps of Trenton’s City Hall.

Christie, who credited bipartisan efforts for the measure, promised he’ll campaign for voter approval in November of a proposed constitutional amendment allowing judges to deny bail to dangerous offenders.

“Under these reforms, our justice system will be both more effective in protecting our communities from dangerous violent repeat offenders and fairer to those non-violent offenders who do not deserve to sit in what has become the equivalent of debtors’ prison because they can’t afford to post the bail,” he said.

The legislation allows for an increase in court fees to provide $22 million a year for a risk assessment and release monitoring program; $10 million for a digital court information system; and another $10 million for Legal Services of New Jersey to help the poor in civil matters.

Richard Smith, the president of the New Jersey NAACP, called the bill signing historic.

“We realize that the bail bonds system in New Jersey was broken,” Smith said. “Three quarters of the people who were being warehoused in our jails were there awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence and their average length of stay is about 10 months.”

The state Constitution needs to be changed because dangerous criminals can’t be kept off the street even when they’ve committee heinous crimes, Christie said.

“Here in Trenton, we’ve seen the failure of this system time and again when individuals with histories of violence are out in our communities because they can post bail,” he said. “We’ve seen the damage when they commit violent acts again and again against innocent citizens.”

The governor said he is confident voters will approve the referendum question.

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