When people get arrested in New Jersey, law enforcement officers need to convince prosecutors that they can bring charges against the individuals under arrest or release them. When the state does bring charges, they typically do so at a formal hearing. Individuals will then be able to request bail, which is the payment of a certain amount of money to secure their release until the charges go through court.
Sadly, it is often the case that those from low-income families facing even minor charges wind up stuck in jail until their day in court because they simply cannot afford to get out of jail. New Jersey lawmakers saw how the laws regarding bail and release pending trial had a disproportionate impact on low-income and minority households and were leading to too many people in jails. This led them to reform the policies on bail in 2017.
Bail reform has made it possible for more people to secure their release on their own recognizance until they finally go to court. This has translated into the population of people in jail awaiting trial decreasing across the state.
Releasing someone on their own recognizance involves no money
When someone posts bond or bail to get out of jail, the courts hold those funds as surety that the individual will arrive at court for their hearings. When someone cannot afford to post bail, the result may be nonviolent offenders remaining incarcerated for weeks or even months.
When the courts choose to release someone on their own recognizance, they acknowledge that the individual has ties to the community or a history of responsible behavior. A job, home, family or more can serve as evidence that someone will likely return for their trial.
Essentially, courts acknowledge and trust that the person charged with the offense will return to court without financially guaranteeing their appearance.
Reform efforts have not resulted in more crime
When the initial push for reform began, critics worried that fewer people would appear in court as scheduled or that crime would even increase.
However, since the changes in 2017, there has not been a drastic increase in crime or in the number of people failing to appear for their scheduled court date. For those who find themselves or someone they love facing criminal charges, it may be possible to request that the courts release them on their own recognizance in many circumstances.