New Jersey Bail Reform Advocates Applaud DOJ for Taking Strong Position on the Unconstitutional Use of Monetary Bail

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Trenton — The Department of Justice has filed an Amicus Brief in an 11th Circuit case challenging the constitutionality of the use of monetary bail for indigent defendants being detained pretrial. This is the third time the Department of Justice has taken a strong stand on bail reform, having filed a statement of interest in an Alabama case in February 2015 and having circulated a Dear Colleague Letter on Unlawful Jailing in March 2016.

The issue of bail reform has gained increased national attention and put New Jersey in the national spotlight because of the comprehensive bail reform legislation that New Jersey enacted in 2015.

In the March 2016 Dear Colleague Letter, the Department of Justice writes, “Bail that is set without regard to defendants’ financial capacity can result in the incarceration of individuals not because they pose a threat to public safety or a flight risk, but rather because they cannot afford the assigned bail amount.”

This very notion is what pushed New Jersey stakeholders to support comprehensive bail reform.   A 2013 report released by the Drug Policy Alliance highlighted cases similar to those that the Department of Justice has weighed in on. The analysis found that almost 40 percent of those held in New Jersey’s jails are there solely because of their inability to pay bail and more than 10 percent cannot pay bail amounting to $ 2,500 or less (more than 800 inmates are held for the inability to pay $ 500 or less).

“Seeing the federal government step up in such a powerful way on bail reform is further validation of the historic legislation,” says Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “A monetary bail system punishes individuals and families with few resources and wastes taxpayer money. It can cost New Jersey upwards of $ 30,000 to warehouse a nonviolent individual pending trial—simply because that individual doesn’t have the resources to pay bail amounts as low as a few hundred dollars.”

New Jersey’s bail reform will be fully implemented in 2017. “We’re looking forward to the new system,” said Richard Smith, President of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP. “Bail reform is a true racial justice victory for New Jersey. At every point in the criminal justice system, people of color fare worse than their white counterparts and the pretrial stage is no exception. Bail reform will help address these disparities.”

Carlos Hendricks of the Latino Action Network agrees, “We know that the use of monetary bail has a disproportionate impact on low income communities, which are most often communities of color. Reforming the bail system in New Jersey will have a direct impact on those communities most harmed by New Jersey’s historical use of unconstitutional bail practices.”

The Drug Policy Alliance, the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, the Latino Action Network, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice are all members of the Pretrial Services Program Review Commission established by the bail reform law. Although the Commission has yet to meet, the members are confident that, like the Department of Justice, the New Jersey stakeholders are committed to protecting the constitutional rights of New Jersey citizens.

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Date Published: September 8, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance

by Brandon