Courts working on ways to tweak NJ bail reform for gun crimes
TRENTON – State judicial officials are working on an alternative to a bill passed by the Assembly that, in response to concerns about rising violence, would make it easier to jail people charged with gun crimes until their trials.
That bill, A2426/S513, was passed by the Assembly in a 50-27 vote in March and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.
Judge Glenn Grant, administrative director of the New Jersey courts, said in response to the bill, conversations have taken place between the judiciary, Attorney General’s Office, Public Defender’s Office and American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey “to see if we can come up with a way of enhancing how people who have gun offenses are treated in our system.”
Grant said data shows a small percentage of released defendants were involved in serious weapons offenses – about 200 people in the time period analyzed. He said the bill moving through the Legislature would expand the pool of people held without bail to perhaps 2,000 people.
“There is a need to try to tackle this issue in a way that makes sense, but you cannot detain 90% of the people who have not committed a serious offense in the hope of preventing the 10%,” Grant told the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
“We believe that working with the attorney general’s office, working with the public defender’s office, ACLU, the judiciary and others that we will come up with a way to answer the question that has been raised with respect to gun violence,” he said.
Grant said gun violence is a national issue, happening in states with traditional bail systems and ones that have enacted reforms.
He said the goal should be to tweak the bail reform program, not exponentially increase the number of people detained in county jails until their trials.
“That is a failed policy that took place in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and it did not work,” Grant said.
Grant said additional resources are necessary to address gun violence, such as $8 million in grants to community groups awarded through the attorney general. But he said changes to detention rules won’t stop all violence, noting high-profile cases such as recent alleged hate-crime attacks in Lakewood in which the defendant wasn’t previously through the criminal-justice system.
“There is an expectation that you can prevent violent crime, and that’s the wrong fallacy,” Grant said. “There’s no way that you can do that. What you’re trying to do is to prevent as much as you can. But to seek the perfect, you would have to detain everybody.”
Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said urban mayors have been talking increasingly about their concerns over repeat gun offenders in their cities. He acknowledges it’s an issue involving only a small percentage of people charged with crimes.
“Unfortunately, those are the ones that hit the headlines, hit the 5 o’clock news and puts all the communities in an uproar, puts the faith-based leaders in an uproar,” Sarlo said.