Bail Reform went into effect in New Jersey almost two years ago. Its stated goals included, among other things, a reduction in jail populations. At the heart of this issue was the implementation of a screening tool known as a Public Safety Assessment, or “PSA”, which is prepared by Pre-Trial Services. The PSA is basically a scoresheet that evaluates each defendant to determine what, if any, terms of pre-trial release should be imposed by the Court, or if the defendant should be remanded to a county jail. The PSA is used on a State-wide basis. In other words, it is used in all counties for all defendants in the Superior Court.
I have always believed that the PSA is problematic because of its “one-size-fits-all” approach to the State’s defendant population. I also believe that this concern is supported by the fact that the algorithm underlying the PSA does not account for all individual variations that may exist between and among all defendants. Given that we have now had some experience with bail reform and the PSA, this may be a good time to take a hard look at the new pre-trial release procedures to see how well they work within the larger context of our State’s criminal justice system.
We can all agree that every jurisdiction wants to reduce its jail population. Toward that end, New Jersey has not been the only state to adopt some sort of bail reform. States all over the country are doing the same thing for the same reasons. This is not surprising given the national experience over the last several decades. We know that inmate populations have been rising nationally for decades. In 1970, daily local jail populations were at about 157,000 inmates. By 2015, that number exceeded 700,000. Close to 11,000,000 people are admitted into jails annually in this country. Given these staggering numbers, coupled with the costs associated with building and maintaining jails as well as the societal costs stemming from incarceration, we need to constantly ask if enough is being done to reduce our jail populations to the lowest possible levels. Continue reading