Crime Lab New York Data-Driven Criminal Justice Reform in New Jersey

In 2017, New Jersey took the bold step of eliminating cash bail, breaking the long-held link between a defendant’s ability to pay and whether they would be jailed while awaiting trial. At the same time, New Jersey introduced a pretrial risk assessment tool to help guide judges to reserve pretrial detention for only the highest risk defendants. The state’s sweeping reforms—which also include creating a statewide pretrial services program and sharing more information with defendants early on—seek to better balance people’s right to freedom and public safety.

New Jersey’s reforms have become a model for jurisdictions around the United States, where, on any given day, nearly half a million people are being held in jail prior to their trial. Other cities and states seeking to reduce their reliance on pretrial detention are looking to New Jersey for evidence about what works. So far, the results are promising, including a 30% drop in New Jersey’s jail population without any significant increases in violent crime. However, as the changes continue to take hold, the state will need to both make adjustments so the changes can fulfill their promise and resolve ongoing challenges such as reducing racial disparities in the jail population and better accounting for risk for particular offenses like domestic violence.

This is why Crime Lab is partnering closely with the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC). By leveraging the unprecedented “big data” from New Jersey’s comprehensive criminal justice data infrastructure, Crime Lab will work with the AOC to help further strengthen the reforms to benefit the state’s 9 million residents, and also to help provide a model for other jurisdictions around the country that are looking to the experiences of first-movers like New Jersey in the area of criminal justice reform.