While being lodged in the New Jersey State Prison system myself during the enactment of bail reform, I have gained a unique perspective on this subject through research, interviews, and my own experiences. There is much to discuss from what has developed.
The simple answer is that bail reform is working and continues to show promise with some unexpected perks benefitting society and the accused.
Following data from arraignment to sentencing in many cases, offenders charged criminally after the passage of the Bill[s] supports findings that almost all released have appeared for court on time and have refrained from criminal conduct while awaiting pretrial intervention processes, a plea bargain, or a trial.
I have seen the intended good this Legislation provides, along with some possible pitfalls as it operates. There are some unintended consequences or caveats to consider, but overall pretrial incarceration in county jails has decreased significantly compared to general population numbers recorded prior to this initiative.
There are a few unintended positives for law enforcement and those in the criminal justice system, offering insight into who many offenders are and what path they may travel in the future. There is real value here in the long term in answering the biggest question; Why?
As an interruption, political candidates have demonized Bail Reform’s intention of misrepresenting accurate statistics and the law regarding what is a constitutionally protected pretrial right under the Eighth Amendment to romance voters to appear tough on crime. Many have advanced unreliable statistics due to the pandemic seeking to suppress the progress made here.
Some released pursuant to the new bail guidelines re-offend. This behavior provides a different outcome with enhanced punishment and the possibility of a mandatory minimum component as an option for the court at the time of sentencing.
For example, let’s say someone charged initially with drug possession is arraigned and released.
Then a second theft is committed, and he, once more, is released. Ultimately, the actor offends again by taking property from another, injuring the victim, and elevating that crime to a robbery. This ongoing pattern of criminal conduct places that person into a felony* category exposing him to a state prison sentence, often with parole supervision imposed after the custodial portion of that sentence is served.
Recently, a forty-two-year-old man in Wayne, New Jersey, was charged with terroristic threats after being arrested and released ten times since July 2022.* Each re-offense brought with it a higher degree of criminal conduct. As a result, this individual is now exposed to a five-year term of imprisonment.
Reports from law enforcement detail a history of mental health issues and substance abuse here. * The question of reoffending “Why?” is answered. Early intervention with medication or counseling could have resulted in a different outcome.
Although there are pluses to reform, danger lurks in Police and prosecutorial misconduct. An unfortunate aspect of this subject is that the authorities can and do take advantage of manipulating arrest reports and overcharging. These situations are ripe for some law enforcement hawks who feel the need to “keep heads in the beds” for the Department of Corrections, with longer State sentences overtaking what good early intervention could make.
Prison populations expand and contract. Inmates with lengthy sentences grow old and die. Currently, many will overdose after completing their state sentence, with many being killed from gang-related violence when returning to the streets.
Like it or not, bail reform works, but it is simply the “weigh station” to bigger problems with our criminal justice system. Some states have made premature modifications to what needs more evaluation time, hindering a truly positive outcome. Those seeking to abolish it need to take a hard look at what it could accomplish if it continues in its present form.
Criminals who do real harm should be punished, but spending an elongated time in a controlled environment does neither the offender nor society any good when there are logical means to keep us safe and those incarcerated with a chance.
Bob Kosch is the host of Greater Good Radio and Sunday Supper with Vito on WOR in New York City. He is also the Executive Producer of “When Comedy Went to School” on PBS.