April 2, 2019

NEWARK -- New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) today released its 2018 Criminal Justice Reform (CJR) full-year report, presenting the most extensive data analysis since the Criminal Justice Reform Act was implemented in January 2017. That legislation essentially eliminated money bail in favor of a comprehensive system that provides significant due process protections and seeks to take into account a defendant’s risk to the community and likelihood of returning to court to resolve the charges.

Among the report’s key findings were that New Jersey’s pretrial jail population was 6,000 fewer on October 3, 2018 than it was six years earlier; that rearrests by those previously arrested was not meaningfully affected by the new legislation; and that court appearance rates also did not significantly change.

Of concern: although there were dramatic jail population reductions in all demographic categories, the tremendous disparities in the racial and ethnic makeup of the state’s jails remained the same; and in 2018 the state’s Pretrial Services Program saw an operational deficit.

The following statement can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Senior Supervising Attorney Alexander Shalom:

“Two years of comprehensive data leaves little debate that criminal justice reform is greatly improving the lives and rights of New Jerseyans.

Preliminary data previously showed a sharp decline in jail populations due to criminal justice reform, leading the insurance company-backed bail bonds industry to use fear mongering as a last-ditch public relations effort to save their unjust cause. That strategy is no longer viable. This report makes abundantly clear that criminal justice reform does not make New Jersey any less safe than it was prior to the law’s enactment, and those charged with a crime are no less likely to appear in court than they previously were.

What’s more, thousands of low-risk defendants are now being diverted from the jail intake process altogether, instead receiving summonses that minimally disrupt their lives while the accusations against them are adjudicated. That’s a clear victory for civil rights, and a benefit of reform that hasn’t been talked about enough.

We applaud the AOC’s work in compiling comparative pre- and post-legislation data regarding race and ethnicity and appreciate its commitment to continue addressing racial disparities. A system that reduces the number of incarcerated people but does not improve racial disparities is simply not good enough. We intend to continue our advocacy efforts to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and to advance justice.

The time has come to fund the program from the state budget rather than from filing fees.

The opportunity for long-term financial savings due to a sharply diminished New Jersey jail population is real; regardless, the gains -- a fairer system, families that aren’t disrupted, and stronger communities -- are worth every penny of our investment in this system. We look forward to working with others in our state to securing the program’s fiscal health.”

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