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Senator Donald Norcross, D-Camden, speaks about legislation on the floor of the State Senate.

Legislation to restrict bail for dangerous criminals, provide alternatives to non-violent offenders

(TRENTON) – Senator Donald Norcross (D-Camden/Gloucester), chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, today held a public hearing of the committee to discuss SCR128, which would allow voters to decide whether to give the criminal justice system flexibility to determine if a person charged with a serious crime should be held without bail prior to trial. The resolution outlines that the court must first conclude that no pretrial release conditions would assure the defendant’s appearance, or protect the safety of the public.

“Bail reform in New Jersey is long overdue. We need a system based on risk, not money,” said Senator Norcross, the prime sponsor of the measure. “Currently, individuals with the ability to pay are set free, while those without financial resources are forced to sit in jail for months at a time waiting for their day in court.”

The measure is a companion to bill S946, which establishes that bail could be withheld in situations where certain violent crimes were committed, including an offense for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, a crime under the No Early Release Act, and an indictable offense for which the victim is a minor.

Another key provision of the bill creates bail alternatives for defendants charged with non-violent offenses. According to recent studies, nearly forty percent of individuals currently incarcerated in New Jersey are awaiting trial, having been unable to post bail. Twelve percent were unable to post bail on amounts of $2,500 or less. This bill addresses the issue by allowing a court to release a defendant under certain pretrial conditions in lieu of bail.

“These common-sense reforms will ensure that our public safety is not trumped by an offender’s financial position,” said Senator Norcross. “Determining whether or not individuals charged with a crime should be released from jail prior to trial should be based on risk, not how much money they have at their disposal. I am confident that the people of New Jersey will agree.”

The measures, which Senator Norcross introduced earlier this year, are similar to those of 26 other states and would bring New Jersey’s pretrial release statutes in line with current Federal law.