On Jan. 1, Criminal Justice Reform legislation went into effect in the state of New Jersey. This reform was established to change the procedure of setting bail as a condition of release.
One feature of the Criminal Justice Reform, known as the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), is a risk-assessment system that helps determine a defendant’s risk level including how likely it is that he or she will appear for future court hearings and whether he or she may be a threat to the community during release. This risk-assessment system can help individuals who are not considered a risk and could expedite their release.
Another component of the reform sets limits on the amount of time a defendant can remain detained before trial. The law contains time limits for scheduling various procedures and could reduce the amount of time defendants spend waiting to go to trial.
These are sound reforms for defendants. However, the implementation of this reform comes with a price. The state has mandated that each county fund the entire cost of these changes. These costs will be significant. Middlesex County alone could pay up to $2.5 million in overtime [for] additional staff, benefits and training. The New Jersey Association of Counties (NJAC) has stated that it will likely cost county governments statewide a total of about $29 million to implement the program.
Unless the state agrees to help fund this program, I cannot support it. Our county should not be burdened with these additional costs, which will force us to cut services and programs.
Middlesex County has adopted a resolution requesting funding from the state of New Jersey and advising that it is appropriate for those individuals who use the court system to share in the costs of implementing the reforms. This resolution seeking the establishment of the County Government Criminal Justice Reform Administration Fund has been submitted to the governor, the New Jersey State Legislature, the Senate president, the Budget chairs of both houses of the Legislature and the Assembly speaker.
Middlesex County joins with NJAC in asking our leaders to consider our concerns. I urge all citizens statewide to call on their legislators and request state assistance to provide funding for the Criminal Justice Reform. In the meantime, I will continue to work closely with the state legislators who represent Middlesex County to stress the need for immediate funding to support these reforms.
Ronald G. Rios
Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders