Reforming the Bail System in New Jersey and Nationwide

How is bail set in New Jersey?

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of individuals are sitting in jail awaiting trial because they are unable to make bail.  They may wait in jail for months for even minor charges, while those charged with more serious offense could wait for far longer.  Jurisdictions across the country are beginning to take notice of the detrimental effects of the traditional bail system.  Reforms are being implemented in many areas, including New Jersey.

Traditional Bail May Discriminate Against the Poor

Supporters of bail reform urge that the current bail system leaves poorer individuals in jail, while those with more access to funds and property go free—regardless of whether they are charged with the same offense.  It is not uncommon for judges to set bail based just on the alleged crime, without regard for an individual’s financial situation. 

The purpose of bail is to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court using the least restrictive means possible.  It seems that this central message has been lost along the way for judges in some areas.  It is illegal for a judge to purposefully assign a high bail as a way to keep someone in jail, yet this practice is committed daily. 

Risk Assessments

New Jersey is one of several states to adopt a risk assessment program.  To assess an individual’s flight risk, a computer program pulls up a defendant’s criminal records, current charges, and age.  The computer program takes some of the room for variation out of the bail equation, but many have reservations about the program and caution judges must remember to use their judgment. 

Setting Bail in New Jersey

If you have been charged with a crime in New Jersey, you will appear in court for a bail hearing.  At the hearing, the judge will review several factors, including:

  • The seriousness of the crime you are charged with;
  • Whether you have a criminal record;
  • How long you have lived in the area;
  • Your past bail obligations and whether you fulfilled bail conditions;
  • Whether you have a job; and
  • Your financial situation, among other factors.

Your New Jersey criminal defense attorney will help to ensure your bail amount is reasonable and constitutional.