An opinion piece in the October 11 edition of the Newark Star-Ledger, written by Craig Hirshberg, states that as many as 15,000 individuals are incarcerated in New Jersey jails at any given time — with more than half held on charges involving nonviolent offenses and about 40 percent in county jails held because they couldn't make bail.
"Suspects who pose no danger to the community are incarcerated for months and even years if they can't afford often small bail amounts," Hirshberg writes, while "the most dangerous suspects can be quickly released because they have access to financial resources.
"This is a shocking failure of the justice system and creates problems far beyond confinement of people who have been charged but not yet convicted of a crime. Their confinement results in stigmatization over something they may be innocent of; it can lead to job loss when employers cannot hold their position open for months at a time, and it causes hardship for their family because of lengthy separation and income loss."
Hirshberg says this can be changed if voters in the upcoming November elections vote "yes" to a change in New Jersey's constitution that will allow the Bail Reform Act to become law. It has already been passed by the state's legislature and signed by the governor.
Hirshberg notes that Ballot Question No. 1 asks to change the language in the state constitution to allow judges discretion in whether to assign bail. Without passage, the newly enacted Bail Reform Act will not be implemented. If passed, the Bail Reform Act will encourage non-monetary release options, require arrestees to undergo a risk assessment before their initial bail hearing and establish pretrial service agencies within each county to monitor and counsel those awaiting trial.
The Rev. Craig Hirshberg is executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.