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July 17, 2017

Following new bail reform law, N.J. sees decline in jail population

The jail population has declined 19 percent in New Jersey since the start of 2017, following a reformed bail policy implemented statewide.

The Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act took effect in January, giving criminal defendants arrested on warrants the chances to be given “risk assessment” scores that will determine their bail and release conditions. This system has replaced, in most cases, the traditional monetary bail system.

In turn, a defendant's pretrial release is more reflective of the danger they would serve to the community, and their likelihood of failing to appear in court, rather than their ability to pay a monetary bail.

For people arrested on a summons, they are taken to a police station, booked, issued charges, and released. On a warrant, however, people can be arrested for as long as 48 hours before a decision is made about their release.

In Ocean County, the Press of Atlantic City reports, the jail population has declined 27 percent since January.

“I want to get through the summer because the population usually spikes after the July 4 holiday,” Joseph Coronato, an Ocean City prosecutor, told the Press. “Right now I feel like the population isn’t down, but more of a revolving door.”

Overall, Coronato believes it's too early to assess whether the current decline in jail population is an accurate reflection of the new policy's efficacy.

Supporters of the new policy believe it’s an equitable solution for keeping defendants from staying in jail simply because they can’t afford bail. Activists especially have praised the policy for straying from older models that arguably target minorities and lower income communities.

“It helps anyone who is disadvantaged economically, and has an economic impact on the country, because many people who sat in jail because they couldn’t pay would end up losing their jobs,” said Olivia Caldwell, president of the Pleasantville/Mainland NAACP, to the Press.