Jersey Shows Eliminating Cash Bail Works
An interesting real-life experiment has been going on in New Jersey over the last two years. In 2017, the state eliminated cash bail entirely and left it to the discretion of judges whether to let defendants go free with a summons or detain them until trial for the safety of the public.
Needless to say, the plan was initially attacked from the start by beneficiaries of the incarceration state and the $2 billion bail bond industry in the state. The scare-mongering included the claim that the release of low-level defendants without bail would result in “dangerous and violent offenders [being] cut loose from jails and shoved into communities where innocent people suffer”. And, just as with the false claims about asylum seekers not showing up for their hearings, those attacking the elimination of bail claimed that it would result in large numbers of defendants not showing up for trial.
The latest report from New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts shows that all that scare-mongering was false. According to the report, there was a 3.3% increase in defendants who did not show up for trial and a 1% increase in the number of defendants who committed another crime while awaiting trial. These are minimal increases and, according to the report, “likely do not reflect meaningful differences”. In addition, while not directly related to the elimination of cash bail, violent crime such as robbery and homicide has dropped by over 30% in the state.
On the other hand, the benefits to the state and its citizens has been remarkable. The state has 6,000 fewer defendants in pretrial detention, nearly half of what it was six years ago. That translates into thousands of New Jersey residents who will not lose their jobs or their housing because they are sitting in jail awaiting trial where they are presumed innocent before proven otherwise. In addition, the reduction of the numbers of pretrial detentions has actually allowed judges to detain violent offenders who might have otherwise been able to post significant bail. The elimination of cash bail has not, however, eliminated the inherent racial bias in the criminal justice system. The percentage of minority detainees has not been reduced to any significant degree.
The success in New Jersey has now encouraged other states including California, New York, Texas, Illinois, and Alaska to begin a similar process. If such measures pass, it will mean tens of thousands of people who are innocent in the eyes of the law will not be forced to lose their jobs and their homes because of pretrial incarceration for low-level non-violent crimes. It will mean a fairer, but far from perfect, criminal justice system.