TRENTON, NJ - Gov.Chris Christie has enacted a legislative plan authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and state Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman that will add 20 new judges to New Jersey’s courts, providing support for the already-enacted criminal justice reforms that took effect this month.
“I appreciate that the Governor has acted so quickly to enact our legislation to bolster our state’s courts in support of bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts,” Bateman said. “Having fully-staffed courts to effectively and efficiently administer justice is critical to public safety.”
Starting this year, the state will shift from a system that relies principally on setting monetary bail as a condition of release to a risk-based system that is more objective, is fairer to defendants because it is unrelated to their ability to pay monetary bail and safer for the public because dangerous offenders can be denied bail.
“These additional judges will improve the judicial process and support the reforms to the criminal justice system that will make the system fairer and more effective,” said Sweeney, referring to the bail reforms approved by the voters. “These reforms will emphasize public safety and not the ability to pay your way out of jail. Non-violent offenders shouldn’t be kept behind bars just because they can’t afford to pay bail and those who pose a danger to the community shouldn’t be released just because they have the money to post high bail.”
The reform includes new pretrial release and detention proceedings and speedy trial rights, all with the goal of keeping dangerously-violent offenders behind bars while allowing non-violent defendants who don’t pose a risk to be released on conditions other than their ability to pay bail.
The law will appropriate $9.3 million to the state’s judiciary from the general fund.
In 2014, the Legislature approved and the Governor signed legislation that transformed New Jersey’s pretrial system by basing pretrial release decisions on risk rather than resources. Instead of giving individuals a set money bail amount, the new law provides for a range of non-financial release decisions for low-risk individuals and will allow truly dangerous individuals to be detained pending trial with speedy trial protections. Voters overwhelmingly approved the plan in a ballot referendum in November, 2014.
Pilot reform programs in three court vicinages – Camden, Morris/Sussex and Passaic – proved successful, court officials say.
A study by Luminosity in partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey found that in the recent past, nearly 75 percent of the individuals in New Jersey jails are there awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence; nearly 40 percent of the total population is there solely because they cannot afford to pay bail; nearly 75 percent of the pretrial jail population is African American or Latino; and the average length of incarceration for pretrial inmates is more than 10 months.