Bail Reform to Begin Despite Cost Concerns

By Andrew Schmertz

For the bail bond industry, reform could be devastating. But for county taxpayers it could just be very costly. So 20 counties asked a state panel to halt the law.

“This is going to cost conservatively between $45 million and $50 million statewide for counties, as they have to hire new officers, new assistant prosecutors, new investigators, we have to make capital improvements to both our county courts facilities,” said John Donnadio of the New Jersey Association of Counties.

But the Council on Local Mandates — an independent state committee which reviews state mandates — refused to act.

“We are disappointed with the decision to deny our relief for a preliminary injunction, because we believe we made a very compelling case that criminal justice reform will cost significant property taxpayer dollars,” said Donnadio.

Assemblyman John McKeon supports reform but is worried about the cost as well. He had tried to get the Legislature to revive some money bail in order to reduce costs. But that effort failed.

“My issue isn’t necessarily with the concept, I’m 100 percent for that. But we need to recognize that it’s grossly under funded and either move to walk it back a little bit or else come up with the money,” he said.

The ACLU says civil rights, not money, is the issue.

“We had a great deal of injustice under the old bail system where people were being kept in jail for small amounts of money. That they were simply there and the system was skewed against them. Simply because they were poor,” said Ed Barocas, legal director for the ACLU of New Jersey.

Meantime, the bail bond industry has been fighting reforms across the country.

Kirk Shaw is a bail bond agent in Hackensack and says without a financial incentive, defendants will flee.

“You’re letting out criminals with nothing. There’s no accountability if they don’t go to court. There’s nothing that’s going to make them go to court,” he said.

But Shaw has other concerns. The law effectively eliminates bail. And that could mean the industry — which he admits doesn’t have the best reputation — could go out of business.

“Some 3,000 people will be put out of work in the state of New Jersey,” he said.

The Council of Local Mandates will now hold a hearing by February. But this law goes into effect on Sunday. And the counties may feel that they are the ones who have been sent up the river.