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Garden State Crime Is Down Since New Jersey Ditched Cash Bail

Money is no longer needed to get out of jail. This hasn’t resulted in danger to the community.

Bail signChris Boswell / Dreamstime.comNew Jersey is about to end its second year using a pretrial court system that has all but stopped using cash bail to decide which defendants can stay out of jail before appearing in court. And guess what? There's been no spike in crime.

Critics of bail reform say that forcing defendants to commit some money as a condition of pretrial release is why they show up to trial and keep their noses clean beforehand. Mind you, it was primarily the bail bond industry making this claim, because it has a financial stake in maintaining cash bail. But they weren't the only ones worried about what would happen to the crime rate when New Jersey allowed more people to remain free before trial.

Thankfully, New Jersey is not seeing an increase in crime. In fact, it's seeing the exact opposite. Stats collected over the past two years show a significant drop in crime across many major categories. The New Jersey Star-Ledger compared the violent crime numbers from the first nine months of 2016 to the first nine months of 2018 and found a 30-percent drop. Homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults, and burglaries are all on the decline.

Over this same timespan, New Jersey's pretrial jail population has dropped by 40 percent.

We should, of course, be wary about too much correlation here. First of all, we're seeing a general drop in violent crime nationwide. And the Star-Ledger is talking about the statistics for the worst, most dangerous crimes. Nevertheless, it is not too soon to say that the reforms have yet to fail.

Under New Jersey's pretrial system, courts use risk assessment tools to calculate the odds a defendant will commit additional crimes or miss court dates while on release; the calculation is heavily informed by a defendant's criminal history. With feedback from attorneys on both sides, a judge evaluates these risks and decides the terms of pretrial release for each defendant, calling for varying levels of monitoring depending on risk level. If the judge decides there's no way to make sure the defendant shows up for court and stays clean on release, the judge can keep him or her detained in jail until the conclusion of the case. Judges detained about 18 percent of defendants in 2017.

In short, the new system appears to be keeping violent and dangerous defendants behind bars while allowing lower-level offenders more freedom as their cases make their way through the court system.

Keeping defendants who aren't dangerous from languishing in jail is important. Those who are stuck behind bars just because they can't afford bail often end up feeling like they have no choice but to plead guilty, if only to get out and get things over with. Defendants who are jailed unnecessarily risk losing their jobs, getting evicted, and suffering other economic consequences that destabilize families. Studies show that defendants are more likely to get bad plea deals and receive harsher punishments than they would if they were free. Why? Because they have no leverage with prosecutors, they're desperate, and sometimes the court system operates so slowly that they serve the equivalent of the punishment in jail before they're ever tried. For many lower level crimes, the pretrial detention feels no different than being convicted.

When looking at New Jersey's declining crime rates, one fairly safe conclusion is that the state has thus far succeeded in assessing risk, which allows defendants to fight criminal charges without one hand tied behind their backs. So not only is New Jersey seeing less crime, it's also seeing less punishment, and that's a good thing.

Photo Credit: Chris Boswell / Dreamstime.com

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  • BestUsedCarSales||

    We should, of course, be wary about too much correlation here

    I'll admit, I raised an eyebrow at the title of this article. I definitely thought you were implying a correlation there.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I'll match your eyebrow and raise you another.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So now Reason is saying cash bail is the cause of all crime???

  • Benitacanova||

    I had the kitchen repainted, then I lost 10 pounds. Coincidence?

  • Dalben||

    Probably coincidence.

    But it does make it unlikely that repainting the kitchen causes weight gain.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Over this same timespan, New Jersey's pretrial jail population has dropped by 40 percent.

    This is the important thing. I suspect crime rates have been trending down in general in New Jersey before dropping bail, plus there are undoubtedly other factors.

    Under New Jersey's pretrial system, courts use risk assessment tools to calculate the odds a defendant will commit additional crimes or miss court dates while on release; the calculation is heavily informed by a defendant's criminal history.

    This on the other hand still makes me scratch my head. So now it's a binary system. If you're a risk, we don't tie to a bond with incentive, we just keep you locked up. You have no option to be released where before there was a way to get released-- even if that was a financial burden. General civil rights groups good with what New Jerksey is doing?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    It seems like a difficult and touchy area. I agree it does make it Binary. As much as it hurts me to say it, John made a lot of good points about this the other day. He did a good job verbalizing a lot of concerns I feel about these changes.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It seems that there's a monitoring mechanism in place and who knows, maybe it works quite well.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yes, but I think your concern is still valid. You tend to want leeway in your legal system. There are too many gray areas to cover everything explicitly in the letter of the law.

  • Cathy L||

    There was always a class of pretrial detainees who were denied bail entirely.

    And you're wrong that "if you're a risk...we just keep you locked up." If you're a risk, you get an ankle monitor. If you're too high a risk to be released with any level of monitoring, you don't get released.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    If I learned anything from police procedurals, it is that ankle monitors are trivially easy to defeat.

  • a ab abc abcd abcde abcdef ahf||

    I wonder how much of that drop in crime is really police refusing to pick up low level scum who they can no longer coerce into a plea deal. I realize that crime stats reflect crime, not convictions or plea deals, but how often before did they encourage neighbors or friends or family to rat on each other because they knew plea deals would be easy? Now that isn't the case; how many people just get along because they know the cops will not be interested in low level disputes?

  • Vernon Depner||

    If it results in fewer people using the police to manage their interpersonal relationships, that would be a significant additional benefit.

  • StackOfCoins||

    "Nevertheless, it is not too soon to say that the reforms have yet to fail."

    This is oddly worded. There is almost the presumption that the reforms have failed, or will.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Shack phoned this one in. Cut him some slack, it's almost the weekend.

  • Dillinger||

    Jersey will counter with "it's magazine restrictions and plastic straw bans, not causes of liberty." We built this.

  • LiborCon||

    A drop in crime is not surprising given that the general trend in crime rates has been a centuries long decline. But never fear, the US has been trying to reverse that trend by making everything illegal.

    New Jersey is at the cutting edge of that strategy. It's already passed legislation to replace real and dangerous criminals; murders, rapists, assaulters and burglars, with newly created classes of harmless criminals; gun owners caught possessing magazines over 10 rounds and hair braiders

    The only thing better than keeping your citizens in figurative chains is keeping them in real chains.

  • lafe.long||

    Just think of how much MORE it will plummet with only 10 rounds.

  • Eddy||

    "In short, the new system appears to be keeping violent and dangerous defendants behind bars while allowing lower-level offenders more freedom as their cases make their way through the court system."

    What crimes are these "violent and dangerous defendants" being charged with? And what bail would they have been offered absent these reforms?

    Wen Ho Lee was considered a dangerous defendant and was denied bail. Turned out he wasn't technically the dangerous espionage agent they portrayed, but you gotta make some omelettes, you know?

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