On January 1, 2017, full implementation of criminal justice reform and final Court Rule changes will occur regarding bail, speedy trial, and overall criminal justice reform in New Jersey. On October 11, 2016, the Attorney General issued an 84-page directive that provides insight into how police and prosecutors will handle these reforms. The most notable points are as follows.
“Although the new statute focuses on the pretrial release decision, its provisions ultimately will affect how cases are handled at every stage of the criminal justice process, from the moment police make an arrest to the time when a defendant is tried or pleads guilty. It is essential, therefore, that New Jersey’s law enforcement community prepare to implement these reforms in a manner that maximizes public safety while controlling costs and collateral consequences. Certain steps must be undertaken before the January 1, 2017 effective date of the new statute and constitutional amendment so that new practices and procedures can be developed and tested, and so that police and prosecutors can be trained on these new practices and procedures.”
“This unprecedented reform initiative, which takes effect on January 1, 2017, includes an amendment to Article I, paragraph 11 of the New Jersey Constitution that was approved overwhelmingly by voters. For the first time in the State’s history, courts will be authorized to order the preventive detention of dangerous defendants charged with non-capital crimes.”
This comes as no surprise since voters are almost always in favor of harsher punishments for suspected criminals, including the pre-trial detention of those that are presumed to be innocent of the allegations against them. The problem is that people too often do not consider the costs of housing defendants in the county jail, especially those charged with victimless and non-violent offenses drug offenses, or status offenses like undocumented immigrants who possess false identification documents. Criminal justice reform is supposed to address these costs by providing alternatives to incarceration like electronic monitoring for non-violent offenders. This should work in theory, but this writer’s experience with the past electronic monitoring program that the Ocean County jail did away with counsels otherwise since the program was done away with due to the excessive costs associated with its implementation.