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Bail reform and results

New Jersey courts reveal the outcome of removing cash bail almost entirely from their system

Bail reform and results

A sign outside a bail bondsman across the street from Mercer County criminal courthouse in Trenton, N.J. (Mel Evans/AP)

A New Jersey moment: 

A year ago I sat in a Manhattan courtroom watching arraignment after arraignment as the judge assigned bail amounts to different criminal cases. At that time, New Jersey had recently eliminated cash bail almost altogether, replacing it with a risk assessment system that would incarcerate only those who were a flight risk or a risk to the community.

Now data is out on how that flashy piece of criminal justice reform has worked in New Jersey. A New Jersey judiciary report concluded: “Concerns about a possible spike in crime and failures to appear did not materialize.” 

Under New Jersey’s bail reform, court appearance rates declined slightly, from 92.7 percent in 2014 to 89.4 percent in 2017. Defendants released pending trial did not go out and commit new crimes at much higher rates, statistically speaking: 12.7 percent did in 2014, and 13.7 percent did in 2017. Meanwhile, the average time defendants spent in jail pretrial cratered by 40 percent, and the pretrial jail population dropped by 43.9 percent. 

“Research has demonstrated that incarceration before trial can have significant unintended consequences, such as the loss of employment, housing, and custody of children,” the judiciary report argued. “Defendants detained in jail while awaiting trial also plead guilty more often, are convicted more often, are sentenced to prison more often, and receive harsher sentences than similarly situated defendants who are released during the pretrial period.”

Worth your time: 

The New York Times’ David Brooks had a great interview with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer about how American hyper-individualism and the drive for “success” is leading to misery. He also took calls from workaholic New Yorkers about his Christian-sounding ideas on community and meaning.

This week I learned: 

Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris obtained wax for its candles from bees living in hives on the church’s roof. The beekeeper just learned his 180,000 bees survived the fire

A court case you might not know about: 

This isn’t a formal court case, but seven black, Hispanic, Asian, and white students have filed appeals in New York over the city’s new high-school admissions policy. The city is giving more seats at elite high schools to those from low-income neighborhoods who score on tests below the cutoff for a particular school. The city’s argument is partly that testing is an incomplete way to grant admissions. 

Most students at the top city schools are Asian, creating an interesting debate locally about diversity. The city wants to add more students from black and Hispanic communities. Meanwhile, middle-class parents of black and Hispanic students are arguing in this case that the city’s policy puts their children at a disadvantage. One black student had a score that would have gotten him into an elite high school, his lawyer argued, if there weren’t so many seats reserved for the city’s diversity program.

Culture I am consuming: 

Amazing Grace, the long-time-coming documentary of Aretha Franklin’s live recording of her gospel album by that name in 1972. Franklin’s voice is shattering, and the audience in the church weeps through her performances. It’s expanding to theaters nationwide now.

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org