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New Jersey’s criminal justice reform efforts are leading to fewer arrests while keeping more defendants out of jail pretrial, an independent report published Thursday found.

Officials and advocates say it’s a fairer and better system, and serves as a model for other states pushing for change.

“This evaluation of New Jersey’s sweeping reforms provides some of the most rigorous evidence to date about the effects of an ambitious package of reforms, including the virtual elimination of money bail,” said Cindy Redcross, director of the MDRC Center for Criminal Justice Research, the group that completed the report. “These results offer important and promising lessons showing that the criminal justice system and its stakeholders can work together to dramatically reduce the number of people sitting in jail unnecessarily.”

In Atlantic, Cape and Cumberland counties, the percentage of complaint-warrants issued and the number of people in jail as of detention hearings are much less than they would be under the monetary bail system, the report states. In addition, since bail reform took effect in 2017, Atlantic County has the highest percentage of defendants released without conditions.

The report, “Evaluation of Pretrial Justice System Reforms that use the Public Safety Assessment: Effects of New Jersey’s Criminal Justice Reform,” used state court data to show that since bail reform took effect, there have been fewer arrests for minor charges, more complaint-summonses issued than complaint-warrants, more defendants released from jail pretrial without conditions and reductions in the length of time defendants spend in jail before trial.

The Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act, implemented Jan. 1, 2017, aimed to decrease jail populations and save costs for counties by eliminating bail in most criminal cases and using a public safety assessment score that helps a judge determine whether to release or detain a defendant.

If a defendant is detained, the state has 90 days to indict them after they are detained and then an additional 180 days to bring the case to trial.

The report, which described bail reform and the PSA as a “fairer, risk-based system in which release conditions are not financially based and cases are processed and disposed of faster,” uses comparisons from the predicted averages if trends from the previous, monetary bail system had continued.

In Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, the percentage of complaint-warrants for defendants arrested on indictable charges was less than predicted, the report states. The difference between the predicted and observed numbers for the three counties were 19.8%, 10% and 6.7%, respectively.

The percentage of defendants held in jail was much less than predicted, too, the report states. In Atlantic County, there was a 12.4% difference, while in Cape May County there was a 14.8% difference and in Cumberland County it was 15% less between the predicted and observed numbers.

In addition, Atlantic County saw the highest percentage of defendants released without conditions, according to the report, at 87.5% who were arrested on indictable charges. Cape May County saw 64.7%, and Cumberland County was at 64.9%.

Earlier this year, the state Administrative Office of the Courts published a 2018 criminal justice reform report, which argued that bail reform had worked to reduce jail populations while keeping communities safe.

However, their report identified a slight increase in defendants charged with indictable offenses or disorderly persons offenses while on pretrial release, and a slight decrease in court appearances.

Bail is still used, but rarely, across the state. In 2018, 102 defendants out of 44,383 were ordered to post bail, and the majority of those were due to violations such as failing to appear in court, according to the state’s report.

Contact: 609-272-7241

Twitter @ACPressMollyB

Staff Writer

My beat is public safety, following police and crime. I started in January 2018 here at the Press covering Egg Harbor and Galloway townships. Before that, I worked at the Reading Eagle in Reading, Pa., covering crime and writing obituaries.

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