The New York Supreme Court Joint Committee on Criminal Justice, which includes judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors, has recommended that the Legislature adopt pretrial release legislation that would release those charged based on the risk they pose, rather than merely their ability to pay., reported the New York Times.
The state Constitution requires that bail be set for all defendants charged with crimes that are not capital offenses. Recommending the changes, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said that this presented problems “at both ends of the system”: people who pose little risk to public safety are held in jail because they cannot afford to pay even minimal bail, while even the most violent and dangerous defendants must be released if they make bail.
A recent study cited in the report from the committee found that 12 percent of people held in New Jersey’s county jails were there because they could not post bail of $2,500 or less. More than two-thirds of those 12 percent were minorities. Studies have shown that people who are held while awaiting trial are more likely to plead guilty, be convicted, and receive harsher prison sentences than defendants who are released pending trial.
The bail provisions recommended in the report would require a constitutional amendment to allow judges to order defendants held pending trial. And the committee also said that the changes should not be enacted unless the Legislature also establishes a system to monitor defendants who are released on conditions other than bail.
“Releasing defendants without monitoring is not an option,” Chief Justice Rabner said in a conference call with reporters. He also called for more funding to ensure that there are enough judges, prosecutors and public defenders to meet the faster deadlines for trial.
Under the recommendations, all defendants would be evaluated for pretrial release based on the same criteria for risk, considering factors like the nature of the charge, history of prior arrest, flight risk, employment status and drug use.
Ultimately, the committee said that the changes could reduce costs. Each day, an average of 9,000 people are held in pretrial detention in New Jersey, at a cost of about $100 a day. The committee’s report projected that the proposed changes would reduce the number of people held by at least half.
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