Bail Reform or Get Out of Jail Free Card?

A Look at New Jersey’s Attempt at Bail Reform


New Jersey’s Bail Reform Act of 2017 is a perfect example of how ineffective and dangerous bail reform can be.

Get Out of Jail Free

The New Jersey Bail Reform Act of 2017 eliminated the use of cash bail for most crimes across the state, allowing judges to regularly release defendants on their own recognizance. This policy has led to the release of dangerous defendants back onto the streets of New Jersey communities. It became such an issue that New Jersey lawmakers began walking back on their bail reform policies, realizing that too many accused criminals were being allowed back into society before their trial, and with no accountability.

In fact, a Politico article from May 2017 reported that New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino released new guidelines for the bail system, just months after the initial policies took effect. He claimed, “…the new, stronger guidelines should better ensure that dangerous and recidivist criminals are kept behind bars while awaiting trial,” implying that the initial reforms allowed for too many defendants who should have been detained to be released – a practice that is simply unacceptable.

Police departments throughout New Jersey have criticized the new system. In an interview with NBC New York, South Plainfield Detective Joe Indano said, “Nobody’s afraid to commit crimes anymore. They’re not afraid of being arrested, because they know at the end of the day, they’re going to be released. It’s catch and release. You’re chasing around the same people over and over again. They’re being released and going back and offending and now you have more people as victims.”

According to a new report, of the 44,319 people arrested for crimes in 2017, more than 56 percent of defendants were released without bond or pretrial services, confirming Detective Indano’s claim that the Bail Reform Act of 2017 has made for a catch-and-release system. In fact, it took six arrests in the same number of months for New Jersey courts to finally detain one man for a series of burglaries.  

There have been quite a few cases in New Jersey in which defendants were released with what seems to be a get out of jail free card:

  • A man who tried to trade a video game for sex with a 12-year-old girl. His record also includes a juvenile conviction for sexual assault on a minor.

  • Two men who led police on a high-speed chase through three highways before slamming into a police car on Route 80.

  • An accused drug dealer who was in possession of approximately 1,850 doses of heroin.

  • A former military police officer who was indicted on two counts of second-degree manslaughter for allegedly running two victims off the road.

  • An ex-con who was carrying marijuana and a loaded handgun with two rounds of ammunition in his car.

  • 23 of 24 child sexual predators who were arrested for attempting to lure teenage girls and boys for sex through social media.

  • A woman who was charged with trying to burn down her former home.

  • A man with multiple outstanding warrants who made terroristic threats in a local Dunkin Donuts.

  • A member of a fraudulent credit card manufacturing ring.

This is troubling to say the least, and it’s only a fraction of the dangerous defendants who are walking down the streets of one of America’s most densely populated states before they face trial for their crimes.

Even more troubling is the cost of these reforms. The same report warns that “the system is ‘simply not sustainable’ and faces a ‘substantial annual structural deficit’ because of its funding mechanism.” Currently, the judiciary is spending more on the system than it’s collecting in fees.

How can we continue to consider bail reform like this in other states when it’s been such a clear failure in New Jersey?