Earlier this year, lawmakers in Morris County, New Jersey implemented a bail reform law that could have a huge impact on the ability of Municipal Court judges to hold defendants pending trials. The bail reform law comes with a hefty price tag. Per the Mount Olive Chronicle, Morris County has budgeted $750,000 to implement the changes to bail reform.
How Have New Jersey’s Municipal Court Bail Laws Changed?
Morris County’s bail reform law is known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Under the new law, bail provisions are eliminated and judges have less room for discretion when it comes to making decisions regarding holding defendants or setting them free pending their trial.
Prior to the Criminal Justice Reform Act, judges set bail for anyone facing indictable charges. This meant that even if defendants were not likely to flee and did not pose a risk to others, if they could not afford the bail, they could be stuck behind bars for long stretches pending trial. The Mount Olive Chronicle report includes data from a Drug Policy Alliance study conducted in New Jersey in 2013. Per the study, 39 percent of inmates in New Jersey were eligible to be released on bail, but were unable to afford to pay it. In some cases, bail was as little as $2,500.
Under the Criminal Justice Reform Act, within 48 hours of an arrest, a special judicial processing panel works with the county prosecutor to evaluate risks and decide whether an accused person should be set free pending trial. The judicial processing panel and county prosecutor use risk assessment scores to help decide whether it is safe to release a defendant. A computer-generated algorithm is used to determine the scores. The risk assessment scores range from one to six, with six being the riskiest. Factors the algorithm uses to determine the scores include past criminal history, severity of the crime, potential to flee and likelihood to further harm victims.
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