TRENTON — New Jersey’s county jails are clogged with suspects awaiting trial who can’t afford to post their often-nominal bail, a new report says.
Released Monday by the Drug Policy Alliance, the report shows 4 out of 10 county jail inmates have been granted bail but can’t afford to post it. The report, which analyzes the state’s jail population, finds up to 1,500 people could secure their release pending trial with $2,500 or less.
The report looked at county corrections data in 19 of the state’s 21 counties. It concludes a pretrial system that provides almost no alternatives to monetary bail often results in the detention of low-risk suspects who lack financial resources, or the release of high-risk suspects with better economic circumstances.
“The decision to release or detain a person pending trial must be based on the risk the defendant poses to the community and of failing to appear in court,” said report author Marie Van Nostrand. “Shifting from a resource-based system to a risk-based system will undoubtedly improve public safety and ensure the most efficient and effective use of public funds.”
Advocates say because more than half of those in county jails face nonviolent charges, many could be safely released with supervision pending trial.
It can cost taxpayers $30,000 to incarcerate a suspect pending trial, said Roseanne Scotti, the Drug Policy Alliance’s state director in New Jersey. She said such a system “punishes individuals and families with few resources, and wastes taxpayer money.”
The report comes as the Christie administration considers bail reforms. Gov. Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, is an avid supporter of drug courts rather than incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders, including mandatory treatment.
The Drug Policy Alliance said it plans to advocate for legislation in New Jersey that would encourage non-monetary release options and require suspects to undergo a risk assessment before their initial bail hearing.
The report cites Kentucky as an example of a state that has realized savings by replacing private bail agencies with a state-run pretrial services agency that conducts risk assessments to determine the possibility of a suspect failing to appear at trial and their threat to public safety. Those shown to be at low risk and approved for non-monetary release are supervised and given social services tailored to their needs.