New Jersey has been leading the way when it comes to reforming the cash bail system. Since 2017, the revised bail process in the state has reduced the jail population by nearly 50%.
It’s not all good news, however. Whether you get bail largely depends on what happens in the first 48 hours after your arrest.
How bail is set in New Jersey
During that time, information about you will be pulled together and an algorithm-based risk assessment will be performed based on things like the severity of the charges you’re facing, your prior criminal history, any previous problems you’ve had making other court dates and more. Then a hearing is held, and a judge will make the call to either release you (with or without conditions), set bail or remand you.
Why advocates for reform aren’t satisfied with this process
The Pretrial Justice Institute, which began promoting the use of the algorithm as a necessary part of bail reform, says that even though fewer people are being held in jail without bail, the racial makeup of prisoners remains the same.
Why is that a problem? Well, only 15% of New Jersey residents are Black, yet Black people comprise roughly 50% of the prisoners being housed without bail. Racial injustices that lead to more incarcerations for people of color are woven into the algorithm, which means the problem is perpetuated despite the progress that’s been made.
The cash bail system is inherently weighted against poor people. The jails are filled with people who simply cannot afford the bail they need to walk free. That limits their ability to remain gainfully employed, take care of their children and participate in their own defense. If you’re facing charges, it helps to have an aggressive defender present during your bail hearing.