June 23, 2014
Today in New Jersey, lawmakers will hear testimony on a proposed bill that promises big changes in that state’s bail system, and not necessarily good ones. If passed into law, the bill would take the cost of guaranteeing the appearance of criminal defendants in court and shift the cost from the defendant to the taxpayer.
This bill, A1910, will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. A1910 guarantees criminal defendants will be first considered for release on their own recognizance and supervised by a taxpayer funded pretrial release agency. Requiring a defendant to post a bail bond would be the third release option and used only after a pretrial release person or a judge deems it necessary.
Again, if this bill passes, the 9 million citizens in New Jersey will incur the cost of funding a new $200 million plus annual liability and in return they must endure persons committing crimes in their communities being released from jail pretrial with no financial guarantee of appearance in court. When these defendants fail to appear for court the burden of returning them to jail will fall upon local law enforcement that is already suffering from cutbacks.
There is a coordinated effort nationally to push taxpayer funded pretrial release programs with their risk assessment tools to replace or marginalize the effective and efficient money bail system. Proponents of this effort are quick to demonize bail agents, who have for decades have guaranteed their clients appear for court. The underwriting guidelines and procedures employed by the bail profession are the likely source for pretrial’s risk assessment tools. At least two elements of private bail not being copied by public pretrial programs are accountability and penalties for nonperformance.
If this bill passes, the costs of getting fugitives to court, not to mention those defendants who comply with the conditions of their release, will be shouldered by New Jersey taxpayers and reducing, if not eliminating, the inconvenience to those persons committing crimes in communities throughout The Garden State.
A state government run pretrial release system is someone’s notion of governments answer to a perceived problem. The criminal justice system may have struggles to overcome but reducing money bail – the one component of the system that works – is not the place to start.