August 13, 2014 at 12:00 AM
TRENTON, NJ – Legislation sponsored by Senators Donald Norcross, Nicholas Scutari, and Peter J. Barnes III to reform New Jersey’s outdated bail system was signed into law today.
The law, S-946, will move New Jersey’s criminal justice system away from one where access to resources is the only factor that will determine whether dangerous criminals can be released before trial while non-violent offenders without means remain incarcerated, and towards a more common-sense system that bases pretrial release decisions on an objective risk assessment.
“Bail was never meant to be a punishment for poverty,” said Senator Norcross (D-Camden, Gloucester), chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. “We are taking the final steps toward safer communities through a balanced bail system. This law will help keep violent criminals off our streets while providing common-sense alternatives for non-violent offenders.”
A key provision of the law creates bail alternatives for defendants charged with non-violent offenses. The law also outlines that bail may be withheld in certain circumstances.
“New Jersey’s bail laws are badly outdated and in need of reform. It’s grossly unfair that the wealthy and those of means can easily make bail, while those charged with lesser crimes must linger in a cell,” said Scutari (D-Union, Middlesex, Somerset). “A fairer, more equitable bail process will also do more to ensure that those who should remain in jail after arrest are not released.”
“Overhauling our bail laws is not only about creating a fairer system, but it’s also about creating a greater atmosphere of public safety,” said Barnes (D-Middlesex). “This will better ensure that low-level offenders are not held in jail merely because they cannot afford minimal bail amounts. In circumstances where offenders are deemed so dangerous that no amount of bail and conditions will ensure the safety of the public, it will provide a mechanism to keep these individuals off our streets.”
The legislation is a companion to SCR-128 – sponsored by Senator Norcross – which would amend the Constitution to make the legislative changes possible. The Constitutional amendment will be decided on by voters in November.
“We’re close to the finish line, but we’re not across it yet,” Senator Norcross added. “We are now relying on the residents of New Jersey to stand up in favor of safer streets and true justice this November. I am confident they will make the right choice for our communities.”