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Giving Compass' Take:
• MDRC Center for Criminal Justice Research reveals that New Jersey's criminal justice reform successfully reduced arrests and the length of time defendants spend in jail.
• How can funders work to build on the success of NJ's reform? What other states could benefit from this type of reform?
• Read a guide to criminal justice reform.
On January 1, 2017, the State of New Jersey implemented Criminal Justice Reform (CJR), a sweeping set of changes to its pretrial justice system. With CJR, the state shifted from a system that relied heavily on monetary bail to a system based on defendants’ risks of failing to appear for court dates and of being charged with new crimes before their cases were resolved. These risks are assessed using the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), a pretrial risk-assessment tool developed by Arnold Ventures with a team of experts. The PSA uses nine factors from an individual’s criminal history to produce two risk scores: one representing the likelihood of a new crime being committed, and another representing the likelihood of a failure to appear for future court hearings. The PSA also notes whether there is an elevated risk of a violent crime. The PSA is used in conjunction with a New Jersey-specific decision-making framework (DMF) that uses an individual’s PSA risk score in combination with state statutes and statewide policies to produce a recommendation for release conditions.
Findings in this report include:
- Fewer arrest events took place following CJR’s implementation. There was a reduction in the number of arrest events for the least serious types of charges — namely, nonindictable (misdemeanor) public-order offenses.
- Police officers appear to be issuing complaintsummonses more often and seeking complaint-warrants less often since CJR was implemented.
- Pretrial release conditions imposed on defendants changed dramatically as a result of CJR. A larger proportion of defendants were released without conditions, and rates of initial booking into jail were lower than predicted given pre-CJR trends.
- CJR significantly reduced the length of time defendants spend in jail in the month following arrest.
- CJR had the largest effects on jail bookings in counties that had the highest rates of jail bookings before CJR.
The PSA is used at two points in New Jersey’s pretrial process: (1) at the time of arrest, when a police officer must decide whether to seek a “complaintwarrant” from a judicial officer (which will mean booking the person into jail) or issue a “complaint-summons” (in which case the defendant is given a date to appear in court and released); and (2) at the time of the first court appearance, when a judge sets release conditions for a defendant who was booked into jail on a complaint-warrant. The PSA is used in conjunction with the DMF to make this decision. The reforms also greatly reduced the use of monetary bail as an initial release condition, created an option for pretrial detention without bail, established a pretrial monitoring program, and instituted speedy-trial laws that impose time limits for the processing of certain cases.