NJ AG’s Office Asks for Modifications to Bail Reform

By Michael Hill

In a letter, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office has asked the architect of bail reform — Judge Glenn Grant who heads the Administrative Office of the Courts — to “consider making certain modifications” in how the new bail reform system assesses and determines risk of releasing criminal defendants in gun and eluding the police cases because the ways it’s done now “undervalue the danger posed by defendants.”

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop called bail reform flawed last month. He said 19-year-old DaJour Riley should still be alive, not murdered just days after his release from jail last month on an illegal gun charge considered a non-violent crime.

“The only way we can completely turn the corner on preventing this type of gun violence is if the cases are dealt with by the courts aggressively when it deals with guns,” he said.

In January on WBGO’s Newark Today, Mayor Ras Baraka said the state should attach resources and services from organizations and nonprofits to those released from jail for drug and gun offenses.

“Don’t just ignore that and allow them to be back in the population of the community that, you know, is already grappling with serious levels of violence,” Baraka said.

Starting on Jan. 1, bail reform has taken money out of the equation, instead evaluating the person’s risk to public safety and likelihood of showing up for court.

In its letter, the Attorney General’s Office says it was sharing the responses of law enforcement officers and county prosecutors and “without modification” to how the system scores risk “our communities will face the dangers of those who choose, among other things, to terrorize others.”

“I think it’s an act of political grandstanding,” said Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of New Jersey.

Shalom says assessing risk to public safety is based on science.

“We know that people with low risk scores have been detained on firearm offenses in certain cases when the state is able to show that the person poses an unacceptable risk to public safety. But that’s not true in every case. And that’s what the attorney general is now asking the courts to do, is to ignore the science, ignore the data and rely on these couple stories to say, OK now we should change the whole system,” he said.

Both the Attorney General’s Office and the Administrative Office of the Courts declined on-camera interviews, but the AOC issued this statement: “We are exploring modifications to the Public Safety Assessment and working with all segments of the criminal justice system to make sure we come up with the right balance.”

If nothing else, the attorney general’s letter serves as a reminder for all that bail reform is not perfect, that this system is in need of tweaking, some improvement here and there as New Jersey tries to live up to the ideals of innocent until proven guilty and justice for all.