Prioritizing Public Safety while Encouraging Fiscal Responsibility

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The key issue is that many people are detained in jail waiting for trial based on their inability to afford bail vs. an assessment of any risk they may pose to the community. So how does government tackle bail reform and ensure the highest level of public safety?

Government is challenged with finding the balance between being fiscally responsible and keeping citizens safe. This is particularly relevant for government in the area of bail reform. Bail has become what some consider a “pay to play” game, where those who have enough money can avoid jail time before their trial date. Unfortunately, many people do not have the funds to afford bail and are forced to wait in jail prior to their trial. This current bail structure has potential negative consequences where the poor become poorer, unable to work and support their families while awaiting trial.

Currently, there are more than 175 different pieces of related bail reform legislation being considered at the state and federal level in the U.S., which is part of a much broader movement to transform U.S. criminal law and enforcement. The statistics reported by the Washington Post and PreTrial.org help to illustrate the bail reform issue for government:

  • The U.S. prison population has increased 400 percent between 1973 and 2013

  • Six out of 10 inmates inside a U.S. jail are currently there waiting for their trial

  • Nine out of 10 individuals who remain in jail before their trial do so because they can’t afford to pay bail

  • 47 percent of felony defendants who can’t afford their bail payment remain in jail until their trial, which can be for a period of years

  • On any one day, US jails can be home to over 730,000 people awaiting trial

  • The average cost of a bed in jail is $60 per night, but can be as high as $200 per night

  • Pretrial incarceration costs U.S. tax payers an estimated $9 billion every year

The key issue is that many people are detained in jail waiting for trial based on their inability to afford bail vs. an assessment of any risk they may pose to the community. So how does government tackle bail reform and ensure the highest level of public safety?

In 2014, the State of New Jersey passed the most comprehensive statewide bail reform legislation in the country. Effective in January 2017, New Jersey’s law contains five important components:

  1. New Jersey courts are now going to prioritize non-monetary release options over setting a bail amount.

  2. Individuals that are arrested will have a validated risk assessment performed before their initial bail hearing to help the court make informed, individual determinations about pre-trial release.

  3. A pre-trial services agency will be established in each county to monitor and advise individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial.

  4. The court will now have the option to detain those truly dangerous individuals in jail, without the option for bail, until their trial.

  5. The State of New Jersey will guarantee a timeline for speedy trials for those arrested.

New Jersey Courts turned to Pegasystems to help implement their bail reform legislation. New Jersey police officers input critical information on each case into Pega’s robust case management system and business rules engine. Once a risk assessment has been determined using third-party criteria, it is validated by specialized software. Judges can use that information to make the final determination on an arrestee’s eligibility for bail. With Pega, New Jersey Courts is able to integrate with multiple systems of record, as well as New Jersey’s specialized risk assessment software, to ensure all stakeholders are informed, providing them the ability to make real-time decisions throughout the duration of the case and ensuring action is taken on a timely basis.

New Jersey Courts serves as an example of a government agency that is prioritizing public safety while emphasizing fiscal responsibility and improving the lives of their citizens. Similar efforts are following suit around the U.S. with bail reform as a critical element of a broader criminal justice transformation. I’m looking forward to seeing how else Pega can make digital government work better for those who need it most.

Read more about how Pega and the New Jersey Courts are working together in our recent press release.