At the beginning of 2017, the New Jersey Criminal Justice Reform Act took effect, allowing the vast majority of criminal defendants in the Garden State to be released from jail without posting bail.

This new system was based on the idea that individuals, especially those who are poor and cannot afford to post even a modest bail, should not be locked up until their trial date unless they posed an extreme flight risk or danger to the community.

One Garden State lawmaker, however, believes criminal justice reform efforts have gone too far.

Is the system broken?

State Sen. Robert Singer, R-Ocean, said as soon as the lame-duck session is over and the new Legislature is seated next month, he will introduce legislation to expand the power of judges to set high bails or keep dangerous people behind bars.

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“This is going to leave discretion to the judge to take a look at that individual: Have they committed numerous crimes in the past, are they a danger to society? Some people need to be in jail for a while with a higher bail to protect the public,” he said.

He said under the reforms that have been enacted, it seems like only accused murderers and rapists are being kept behind bars and everyone else is allowed to be released.

Change the system

“If you’re a drug dealer, that’s a serious crime in my book. If you’ve robbed somebody, that’s a serious crime in my book. And as far as I’m concerned shoplifting can be a serious crime depending on what it is,” he said.

People who are released on bail, however, have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

But Singer said other states have had terrible tragedies, including in Wisconsin where a violent career criminal who had attacked his girlfriend, trying to run her over, was released from jail and wound up killing six people with his SUV.

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“This will come to New Jersey if we don’t stop it right now, I want to make sure it doesn’t come to New Jersey. I’m going to make sure the residents of New Jersey are safe,” he said.

Singer said his measure will not impact people who are accused of committing minor crimes like smoking a joint or possessing a small amount of marijuana.

“But we want to make sure criminals are kept in jail until their trial comes up and not just out in the street,” he said.

A revolving door?

Singer said the criminal justice system should not be a revolving door for some people who continue to rob, steal and constantly commit other crimes as soon as they’re released from jail.

“If you listen to prosecutors statewide, if you listen to sheriff departments and police statewide, the person is out without bail or minimal bail before they even do the paperwork. This is a problem,” he said.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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