ACLU-NJ, DPA, LAN & NJ NAACP Testify That Implementation Will Define Bail Reform's Strength
New Jersey-based civil rights and policy organizations testified before the New Jersey Supreme Court on Wednesday with recommendations to keep the state's 2014 bail reform law as strong as the legislature and New Jersey voters intended.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Drug Policy Alliance, Latino Action Network, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and the New Jersey Institute for Justice — all designated by law to serve on the Pretrial Services Program Review Commission — jointly submitted recommendations to the Court to prevent money bails that unfairly keep defendants in jail and to ensure that speedy trial limits in the law are fully enforced.
The following statement can be attributed to ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom:
"The bail reform law was written to ensure that no one would languish in jail because they were too poor to afford the cost of bail. The Court will now determine whether the law lives up to that promise.
"Under the current draft rules, New Jerseyans could still end up awaiting trial in jail for months or even years regardless of innocence or risk to the public, all while beholden to some of the same unfair money bail requirements that benefit the rich and hurt the poor.
"If the current draft rules and official recommendations under consideration by the Court are made final, the bail reform will fall short of the fairness it promised to instill in our pretrial justice system.
"We are especially concerned about upholding the law's provisions to protect the right to a speedy trial and prevent courts from issuing monetary bail to keep defendants in jail. The current draft rules create exceptions that would make it much easier to violate the speedy trial provision, and staggeringly long waits would continue to be the status quo. Choosing to preserve the law's speedy trial protections or weaken them is single biggest decision the court will make in determining whether the bail law lives up to its promise.
"Even though the main purpose of the law is to guarantee that no one is denied release solely because they cannot afford bail, the current rules as drafted issue no guidance for making that imperative a reality. Judges should have to explain why each use of monetary bail is necessary, and we recommend that judges quickly review situations where someone is kept in jail because they cannot afford to pay bail. It's in the Court's hands to make sure the promises of bail reform become a reality.
"New Jersey's bail reform could be a model for every state in the country, or it could be a shadow of what lawmakers and the voters intended. We hope the justices remember that this law is more than just a statute on the books, but rather a set of policies that will impact thousands of people's lives every single day."