Tag Archive: Bail reform

Christie in Camden on crime & drugs

In a campaign speech in Camden Chris Christie today touched upon such subjects as improving relationships between police forces and urban communities, increasing drug courts, and changing the bail system. His speech included the usual number of platitudes such as “Justice isn’t something we can jail our way to. Justice is something we have to build in our communities.” it also included some substance, although little in the way of new or radical ideas.

All the while, he pointed to Camden as a national model for police departments operating in poor, crime-ridden cities across the country. In this regard his slogan “telling it like it is” must be called into question. He has certainly aided George Norcross’ interests there, but Camden remans a troubled city and should not be touted as a model now.

Some of Christie’s proposals mirror those of Marc Levin, Director of Right On Crime (“The one-stop source for conservative ideas on criminal justice”), but they also reflect those of many progressives. Today President Obama is visiting a prison. On Tuesday he called on Congress to take up criminal justice reform at the NAACP convention in Philadelphia saying he’s “feeling more hopeful today” about the prospects of federal legislation because Republicans and Democrats never agree on anything but “a lot of them agree on this.” Sen. Cory Booker has been an outspoken supporter of reform, as have Rick Perry and Rand Paul.

Bipartisan Bail Reform: The Greater Good

A Star-Ledger article yesterday evening opened with “Gov. Chris Christie will likely get his wish on bail reform.” Why should the main point be that Christie will get his wish? It has long been a wish of Democratic and Republican legislators, the judiciary, advocacy groups like the ACLU, people who have a family member awaiting trial in jail on a minor charge for ten months because he or she cannot afford bail, and community members who fear that a dangerous criminal will return to terrorize their neighborhood because he or she can pay a high bail.

Yes, passage of these two bills will burnish Christie’s presidential image, but that is no reason to vote against it. Opponents failed to articulate a clear, sensible reason. The bills are a needed reform for our state. That is the reason to vote for it. The Senate has already passed both bills.

For a while it seemed that the Assembly might not reconvene on Monday to take up bail reform, but Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto has announced the matter will be scheduled for a vote on Monday (along with an important open space funding bill). For the Democratic Assembly not to move forward because it might benefit the Republican Governor bears comparison with the U. S. Republican House which is averse to anything President Obama likes. Just yesterday the House failed to bring to the floor an immigration bill for youths fleeing violence from Central America even though it reduced Obama’s budget request by 75%, stripped consideration of the youths as worthy of asylum, and funded their quick return to life-threatening conditions.

Fortunately, NJ often shows better sense than Washington, and our legislators can occasionally set aside partisanship for the greater good.  

Bail Reform: A Better Course of Justice Needed Now

There has been broad agreement among Democrats and Republicans for years that our bail system requires reform – but less agreement on the precise changes to be enacted. After back-and-forth discussions legislators are nearing an agreement on two bills, but unresolved issues remain which might derail the reform. Also time is running out as one bill calls for a constitutional amendment to be placed on November’s ballot requiring a 60% legislative majority vote by August 4. The Senate appears poised to meet the deadline, but the Assembly less so.

Assuring that the most dangerous criminals have less access to bail and that the least dangerous be provided alternatives are important goals. There is suspicion the bail industry is trying to block the bills. Denying bail to some and providing alternatives to others reduces the income of bail bondsmen.

The paramount issue, nonetheless, is fairness, particularly for those who spend ten months or more in jail on minor offenses because they cannot afford bail. NJ Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has said that the system ensnares the poor unfairly, resulting in unnecessary incarceration and a higher-frequency of guilty pleas. The legislature should quickly resolve their differences and pass these two bills now.