New Jersey Cash Bail Reform Reduced Incarceration without Increasing Gun Violence, Study Reveals

By Rena Abdusalam 

PHILADELPHIA/BOSTON – New Jersey’s 2017 cash bail reform law, which mitigated financial barriers in the release of people, has reduced the state’s imprisonment population without an increase in gun violence, according to a recently published study from researchers at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and Boston University.

“We know that removing financial barriers to pretrial release can reduce mass incarceration and related health inequities without sacrificing community safety,” said assistant professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health, Jaquelyn Jahn, Ph.D.

“This paper offers another metric to discredit the argument against meaningful cash bail reform by showing that there were no increases to gun violence in the three years after New Jersey’s bail reform policy was implemented,” continued Jahn.

From  2014 to 2019, the authors reviewed data about gun deaths and fatal and nonfatal shooting numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics and nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

For the study, the team sampled 36 states that did not permit bail reform as a control group. The team also controlled other factors that may affect violence, including gun law restrictions and gun ownership rates, and state senate majority partisanship, the study notes.

“Before New Jersey’s 2017 cash bail law, about 38 percent of the state’s pretrial population were in jail—while legally innocent and awaiting a trial—solely because they could not afford bail,” noted, an online science, research, and technology news service.

“The law was successful at substantially decreasing the pretrial population in the years since it was passed: 8,899 people were detained before their court date in 2015, but that number dropped to 4,976 people in 2019,” declared the news service.

The study evaluated how violence and health outcomes changed at the community level since bail reform was instituted, unlike prior studies that reviewed rearrest and reconfinement rates.

“A 2023 study in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics found no evidence that cash bail has an effect on a defendant’s likelihood of re-arrest or showing up for their trial,” wrote, giving an example of a study that did not review violence and health outcomes.

“Our research shows that reducing pretrial detention has no measurable impact on firearm violence, suggesting we can significantly reduce the criminal legal system’s footprint without harming community safety,” stated co-principal investigator Jessica T. Simes, Ph.D., an associate professor in Boston University’s School of Arts and Sciences.

Despite the Eighth Amendment, a 2022 report from the U.S Commission on Civil Rights revealed that there was a 433 percent increase in the number of people who had been detained pretrial. Additionally, it was revealed that, due to an inability to afford bail, more than six out 10 accused were incarcerated before trial.

According to the news service, cash bail policies “fuel racial and socioeconomic disparities in pretrial detention rates and higher bail costs for men and for Black and LatinX defendants.

“The same 2022 report also noted study findings that Black defendants had bail amounts that were set at 35 percent higher than white men and Latino men faced bail amounts that were 19 percent higher than those of white men. Proponents of ending cash bail say the policy may help close the gap in racial disparities in incarceration,” reported the news service.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of the 1.2 million people incarcerated in the country, 32 percent are Black, although Black Americans make up just 12.1 percent of the overall U.S. population.

“Reducing pretrial detention helps keep families and communities intact, and potentially avoids many of the inequitable health consequences of jail for incarcerated individuals and their loved ones,” said Jahn.

“And, programs that reduce gun violence by investing in communities help address racist histories of disinvestment. These and other measures must be prioritized to stem pervasive gun violence in communities across the United States,” argued Jahn.

In addition to cash bail reform, the report noted New Jersey has an encompassing gun law environment, but findings can help inform policy discussions about bail reform nationwide.

“However, (researchers) also noted that New Jersey’s policy is not without important critique, especially related to racial inequities in outcomes of the state’s pretrial risk assessment tool, which considers factors like other charges or past convictions,” stated

“The public conversation often assumes a link between gun violence levels and what’s happening in the criminal legal system, whether it’s policing, prosecution, or incarceration. This study is important because it directly contradicts that assumption,” ended senior author Jonathan Jay, DrPH, JD, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health.

About The Author

Rena is a junior at Davis Senior High School and is currently exploring her interest in the criminal justice system. After high school, she plans to attend college and continue to pursue a career in law.

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