A movement to end the cash bail system that is used across the nation received a major boost Monday through a federal court decision.
The United States Courts of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the constitutionality of a New Jersey law that reformed the state’s bail system, WNYC reported. At the same time, the ruling provided a court-approved reform model that other states could follow.
In their ruling, the judges acknowledged that New Jersey instituted the reforms to address inequalities—also found in other states—that kept poor people behind bars for nearly a year on average, while awaiting a hearing because they couldn’t afford to pay bail of $2,500 or less.
African-American are disproportionately harmed by cash bail systems, David Hall, the senior criminal justice attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, wrote in the News & Observer. Nationally, Blacks get detained in jail at nearly five times the rate as whites. Moreover, African-Americans aged 18 to 29 typically receive significantly higher bail amounts than other defendants.
New Jersey passed its Criminal Justice Reform Act in 2014, and it went into effect three years later. It replaced the cash bail or bond method of releasing most criminal defendants with a scorecard system. Under the revamped method, judges decide whether to release defendants based on impartial factors that predict the likelihood of a defendant appearing for trial and the safety risk to the community, according to NorthJersey.com.
New Jersey has the most comprehensive bail reform law, Jeff Clayton, a spokesman for the bail bond industry, told WNYC. Meanwhile, activists are pushing for bail and pretrial reforms across the nation, and some progressive local governments are instituting reforms. In Atlanta, for example, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms signed an ordinance in February that eliminated cash bonds for release from the City of Atlanta Detention Center.