The criminal justice system in New Jersey is 80 days away from a significant overhaul.

With a visit to Hudson County in early October, the state wrapped up a series of 15 "kickoff" meetings aimed at educating institutional stakeholders and the general public on the pending changes that go into effect Jan. 1.

Judge's gavel (Photodisc, ThinkStock)
Photodisc, ThinkStock

"We are eliminating the old way of business and we're creating a new infrastructure," Glenn Grant, administrative director of New Jersey Courts, told New Jersey 101.5.

With the new rules, bail is no longer the primary factor in determining a defendant's release, or detainment, before trial. Bail is still an option for certain individuals, but not the first option, Grant explained.

This way, he said, the most dangerous individuals — as determined by a list of criteria — are held without bail and no opportunity to cause further harm in the community, and individuals considered a low risk, who would otherwise be unable to afford even modest bail amounts, can be released on their own recognizance or with certain levels of supervision.

"We know that one of the ancillary benefits of the change will be a reduction in prison population because these individuals who can't afford $500, $1,000, $2,500 will now be able to be released," Grant said.

Adding to the reforms is a "speedy trial" law that sets a strict clock on the number of days between an arrest and an indictment, and the number of days between an indictment and the start of the trial.

At a number of the kickoff events, officials within the state's court system noted too many defendants are awaiting trial in the Garden State.

The reforms are the product of legislation and a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that allows judges to detain certain offenders without bail.

According to Grant, the sweeping changes are accompanied by a number of challenges, including costs. Prosecutors will likely have to add to their staff, counties will have to provide space for new court employees and additional public defenders will be needed to move cases through the court system expeditiously, he said.

There's also the expense of implementing the computer system to handle the reboot.

"New Jersey will be the first state to create this process of what we call criminal justice reform through a truly automated or electronic process," Grant said.

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