In 2017, the state of New Jersey all but eliminated cash bail.
Those opposed to the move warned that crime would surge as those once destined for pretrial detention were released, their ability to make bail no longer a factor in determining whether they should remain in jail awaiting trial.
But that big surge in crime has yet to materialize.
In fact, the opposite has happened.
Over the last two years New Jersey has reduced its pretrial jail population by 40 percent — and violent crime has plunged. The lawlessness and disorder prophesied by critics has not come to pass.
This “doesn’t mean that bail reform is directly responsible for crime reduction, but for it to happen at the same time courts have all but stopped setting cash bail — cutting our pretrial jail population drastically — speaks to the overarching success of reform,” the Newark-based Star-Ledger enthused in an editorial printed earlier this month.
On Monday Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an end to the state’s cash bail system in a speech in Manhattan.
It’s a call that’s worth heeding, as there are thousands of people languishing in jail who have been charged with non-violent and minor crimes but are too poor to make bail.
They have not been convicted of any crime, but are treated as guilty by a system that disproportionately burdens those with little money.
There’s got to be a better way to do things.
Other communities have successfully moved away from cash bail, and lawmakers should look to them as examples of how to create a fairer, more humane pretrial detention system.
In New Jersey, judges can order defendants jailed based on a risk assessment that looks at a suspect’s criminal history and the charges they face.
Under this system, suspects are detained if they pose an unacceptable flight risk or are deemed a danger to their community.
Which seems like a better set of criteria for determining whether someone should be freed awaiting trial than how much money they have in their bank account.
Earlier this year, the New York Civil Liberties Union released a study examining the impact of cash bail in eight New York counties, including Schenectady and Albany.
It found that between 2010 and 2014 60 percent of suspects held on bail had only a misdemeanor or violation as their most serious charge, and that more than 35,000 suspects spent at least one night in custody on a bail of $1,000 or less.
Looking at these numbers, it becomes pretty clear that many of the people sitting in local jails are there because they lack money, not because they have been found to be any great threat to society.
Using an evidence-based risk assessment tool to determine whether someone should be jailed pending trail seems like a far better way to ensure public safety and reduce the pretrial population, saving taxpayers money.
New York’s cash bail is unjust and overly punitive, and the time has come to change it.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]