Christie on ‘Dog the Bounty Hunter’ bail reform lawsuit: ‘Bring it on’
Gov. Chris Christie defended the criminal-justice reforms that have practically eliminated bail in New Jersey Wednesday and said he looks forward to the state doing the same in a federal lawsuit joined by reality TV’s Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Christie said Duane Chapman, the bounty hunter-turned-lobbyist made famous through a cable reality series, joined a federal lawsuit announced Monday by a Millville family because he’s seeking publicity.
“That’s fine. I understand that I’m a magnet for attention. That’s great. So he can have his lawsuit. I welcome it. I’ll end it where I started: Bring it on,” Christie said.
Bail has only been available a handful of times since January, replaced by an assessment system that tries to determine if a person is a danger or flight risk and, if not, assigns a level of monitoring. Around one of every seven defendants, roughly 3,000, have been held in jail awaiting trial.
Christie said the bail reforms are fair because people aren’t being held in jail until their trial over an inability to cover a few hundred dollars’ bail.
“I welcome the lawsuit. I welcome the opportunity to have this argument because I believe that people should not be in jail because they’re poor,” said Christie, who said “being poor is not a crime.”
He noted recent statistics from the state judiciary showing the number of people jailed while awaiting trial in New Jersey dropped 20 percent, to around 5,800 defendants, over the first six months of 2017.
“We are getting ready to consider closing another state prison in our state, while other states around the country are building prisons,” Christie said. “I’d rather spend that money on rebuilding Trenton than building more prisons and to do it in a way that can also maintain the public safety of the people who live here.”
The change in bail rules hasn’t led to a spike in crime, according to preliminary data compiled and published by the New Jersey State Police.
In fact, crime has gone down 7 percent over the first half of 2017, including a 17 percent drop in violent crime through June. The number of murders is down 27 percent from the same point a year earlier.
The family of a Millville man, Christian Rodgers, killed in Vineland has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Christie and the state, saying the person charged with the crime, Jules Black, was out of jail while awaiting trial on other charges due to the bail reforms.
“Are there going to be times when people who get out of jail prior to trial commit other crimes? Yes,” Christie said. “But is that a justification for mandating that every person stay in jail? I say no.”
Christie answered questions from reporters after an event spotlighting the philanthropic efforts of a Trenton family that used from of the proceeds from a nearly $430 million Powerball jackpot to start a foundation that will primarily provide grants to grassroots groups in the capital city.