NJ Bail Reform No “Unfunded Mandate”


New Jersey’s sweeping and long-awaited bail reforms passed a crucial final hurdle just before New Year’s when the state’s little-known Council on Local Mandates, which has the power to invalidate legislation it considers an “unfunded mandate,” denied a challenge to the new law from the New Jersey Association of Counties (NJAC).  sealofnewjerseystateseal

Pretrial justice improvements like those in New Jersey will almost always encounter resistance: arguments about public safety, costs, constitutionality and, ironically, issues of fairness. Almost all of these objections can probably be traced back to the for-profit bail bonding industry lobbyists’ playbook.

New Jersey’s successful rebuttal reminds us that steadfast arguments based in reason and evidence—forcefully articulated by a broad coalition—can win the day.

The NJAC’s challenge acknowledged that the new bail changes constitute “good public policy.”  It argued, however, that the cost of implementing them would unfairly fall on county governments.

Their petition to the Council was opposed openly by the state’s Attorney General and an array of committed organizations, including the ACLU of New Jersey, the Drug Policy Alliance, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the Latino Action Network, and the NAACP.

Their winning arguments: When assaying the financial impact of the improvements, counties must consider three things:

  • the new practices need not be implemented in ways that produce new and high costs;
  • the net savings that are projected should be weighed against any possible new expense; and
  • cost projections should always be based on evidence, not unsupported conjecture.

Having heard these arguments, the Council denied NJAC’s request, essentially giving bail reform the green light for implementation—and promising a happier new year for those who care about public safety, fairness, and fiscal responsibility.  

To learn more about New Jersey’s successful effort to change pretrial practice statewide, visit the Drug Policy Alliance.

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