New Jersey detective’s response to a misleading editorial on bail reform

‘We’re punishing people simply for being poor’

Headlines like the one above are popping up in editorials all over the country. Usually, they are posted by ‘journalists’ or editors that know little to nothing about how the bail bond system in their state really works. Usually they are filled with so many inaccuracies that they are totally misleading. New Jersey has implemented bail reform that is rocking their whole justice system. 

One New Jersey detective’s response to a Star Ledger editorial on bail reform is well worth reading by anyone who wants some facts and truth on the subject. And note, this was not written by a bail bondsman or any other person or entity that may be accused of being biased by money. It is written by a detective.

bail reform problems

The editorial published by Star Ledger Staff regarding bail reform published on February 2nd, 2017, is a great indication of the general public’s misconception of how poorly the new system is really working. The Star Ledger cites several examples of where the system has failed already, but seems to place the blame on the judges rather than the system itself.

Quoting the Star Ledger “Under the old [bail] law, the only factor [in determining bail] was a defendant’s risk of flight – not the threat posed to the community.” This is false.

Under Bail Schedules 1 and 2, Court Rule 3:26-1, a predetermined monetary bail amount was set according to each specific statute. When setting bail, Judges and Judicial Officers HAD to abide by Court Rule 3:26-1:

“3:26-1 – Right to Bail before Conviction – The factors to be considered in setting bail are:

  • The seriousness of the crime charged against defendant, the apparent likelihood of conviction, and the extent of the punishment prescribed by the Legislature;
  • Defendant’s criminal record, if any, and previous record on bail, if any;
  • Defendant’s reputation, and mental condition;
    The length of defendant’s residence in the community;
  • Defendant’s family ties and relationships;
    Defendant’s employment status, record of employment, and financial condition;
  • The identity of responsible members of the community who would vouch for defendant’s reliability;
  • Any other factors indicating defendant’s mode of life, or ties to the community or bearing on the risk of failure to appear, and, particularly, the general policy against unnecessary sureties and detention.”

As you can see, there wasn’t just one factor as the Star-Ledger would like it’s readers to believe, there were a total of eight. Suffice it to say, the Star Ledger didn’t do their research. What’s very important to note is number 8 “… the general policy against unnecessary sureties and detention.” The monetary bail system in New Jersey was generally well balanced and fair. For the most part, people weren’t subject to unnecessary pretrial incarceration for minor offenses thanks in large part to these factors unless there were other extenuating circumstances, but I won’t say that it never happened.

Now, to address the statement made by the Star Ledger that people were sitting in jail on minor or non-violent offenses and couldn’t “buy” their freedom. Bail reform did not address the issue of people sitting in jail on “minor offenses” like traffic warrants. In fact, under bail reform, people are more likely to be incarcerated on the inability to pay a traffic ticket as opposed to having committed a crime.

Under bail reform, determinations for incarceration are made based on computer Algorithms called “Public Safety Assessments” or PSA’s. If a defendant has a high PSA they are recommended for incarceration, if the PSA is low pretrial release or release on summons is recommended. However, as experienced by law enforcement across the state, the program is flawed. For example, the PSA numbers for Ahmad Khan Rahami, (the Seaside Park Boardwalk Bomber), were low enough that if he were processed under the new bail reform act, he would technically be eligible for pretrial release. Yet, despite bail reform being touted as a huge success; people are still sitting in jail on minor offenses because they have a past of committing minor crimes like shoplifting, while violent offenders are routinely released. Hypothetically, you could murder someone having never committed a crime in your life and have a lower PSA score than someone who shoplifted a few times in the past, so the Star Ledger was wrong again, a PSA score does not take the seriousness of the alleged offense into consideration when determining incarceration or release.

I will concede to one thing the Star Ledger stated; the bail system SHOULD be based on a risk assessment and a judge. In fact, it used to be. Just read the rules of 3:26-1 again; only Judges were allowed to use common sense. Now they’re forced to rely on the flawed PSA’s to make these determinations and it has failed miserably time and time again, for example Dawud Ward; he was arrested and released three times in a month for residential burglary. Maybe if Ward was in jail the first time under “the old law”, he wouldn’t have victimized two additional innocent people. But I digress. The pretrial conditions of bail reform require judges to take the PSA numbers into consideration; and to be fair, some judges may be more inclined to incarcerate while others are not.

. . . 

But now defendants are released, with no bail source inquiry, no accountability, nothing to lose, just simply a promise to appear. Sometimes pretrial release monitoring consists of an ankle bracelet which offenders have been cutting off, and other methods are having the defendant provide a good phone number so they can “check in”, which shockingly enough, most phone numbers that have been provided don’t work. But for the Ledger to say “there’s more monitoring”, is a feel good statement without basis, there simply is not.

The most inaccurate statement the Star Ledger makes: “the poor were jailed simply because they couldn’t [“buy” their freedom].” First of all, refer back to the bail schedules, if you committed a burglary your bail was in the same range whether you were a millionaire or on public assistance, Judges simply had to set bail amounts according to the 8 factors mentioned above on a case by case basis. Furthermore, this isn’t about being poor – 3:26-1(6) – Rules Governing the Courts of New Jersey – Setting of Bail: “defendant’s employment status, record of employment, and financial condition [must be taken into consideration when setting bail].

This is about personal accountability. It’s about obeying laws, and being responsible enough not to worry about coming up with bail money in the first place, I’ve managed to do it my whole life and so have millions of other people. The criminal justice system isn’t perfect, and it does need tweaking… here’s the fix; dangerous people belong behind bars, not on the street, and if they’re released, they need to be held accountable.

Historically, The State of New Jersey has exceeded Federal Constitutional Standards and extended these additional protections to its citizens. The 6th and  8th Amendments were never an exception. With that said, there is a delicate balance between protecting the Constitutional Rights of defendants, while also placing a higher value of the rights of a person to live in a community knowing violent or abhorrent offenders are safely locked behind bars or at least being held accountable for their actions.

Bail reform has done the opposite. It has created a revolving door where offender after offender is being released back onto the streets days or even hours after arrest which compromises the safety and security of victims and communities. Even after only a month of bail reform, offenders are routinely arrested again shortly after being released. It isn’t “a rare case or bad call”, as the Star Ledger puts it, when it happens on a daily basis across the state; it is a testament to the failure of the system.

Because of the revolving door it has created, bail reform has proven to be a complete drain on law enforcement resources which has resulted in increased municipal overtime. Suffice to say, bail reform came with changes to the online complaint systems which every law enforcement agency in this state uses. The changes have resulted in increased booking times, increased complaint processing times and most importantly increased overtime. What was touted as being saved in incarceration costs is lost in day to day police operations and most of all lost in implementation: $53.4 Million to be exact. The recently retracted Bill S2933, sponsored by Senators Robert Singer and Steven Sweeney which called for a property tax cap exclusion, that would have allowed the state to raise property taxes in order to fund bail reform throughout 2017, substantiates the fact that bail reform is unsustainable and New Jersey simply can’t afford it. It took only a month and lawmakers were already looking to the taxpayer for additional funding… isn’t that a surprise?

By the way, I’m not a bail bondsman. I didn’t’ make a living from a monetary bail system, (nor was I financially liable for the estimated $638 Million in commercial bail posted annually, which a majority was allocated to the 21st Century Fund) and personally, bail reform hasn’t affected me. But dealing with it every day, I see its shortcomings and all the societal woes that are sure to follow. I’m a police officer who’s tired of devoting days, months and endless hours into investigations only to see criminals being released with a slap on the wrist. I’m tired of seeing this state value its criminals more than the innocent people they victimize. The rights of the innocent should be appreciated more than anything else in our society. Trenton and some of our politicians obviously feel differently, and until they change it, the innocent people of this state will continue to pay for and fall victim to this total failure called bail reform.

Read the Full article at: http://www.shorenewsnetwork.com/2017/02/new-jersey-police-detective-speaks-out-against-bail-reform/

Bold emphasis is ours.

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