Las Vegas, NV – Today, The Nevada Independent published an oped by Nevada Deputy State Director, Ronnie Najarro on the importance of pre-trial reform to approve more effective, evidence-based pre-trial policies. Below are excerpts from the oped. Read the Spanish version here.
Here in Nevada, we can look to our pre-trial system – the way we decide how to handle someone accused of a crime before a trial – for proof that there is considerable work remaining to make our criminal justice system live up to the ideals of our founding documents.
Like most states, Nevada employs a cash bail system, meaning that judges determine a bail amount depending on the severity of the crime. This practice has been common for centuries. But over time, it’s becoming increasingly clear it creates a two-tiered system where those with means can post bail – oftentimes regardless of the crime committed – while those with limited means must remain behind bars while awaiting trial for the most minor of offenses.
This approach runs counter to the idea of equal justice and is why a number of states are taking steps to adopt smarter pre-trial systems, such as determining whether a defendant poses a flight risk or is a threat to others.
This year, Nevada can follow in these steps by passing Assembly Bill 325, legislation which would help state courts adopt more effective evidence-based pre-trial policies that have been proven to work. The measure, modeled after New Jersey’s pre-trial reforms, operates under the presumption that most defendants should not have to await trial in jail unless they pose a flight risk or pose a danger to their community. Nevada courts would be able to make these determinations through pre-trial hearings that allow judges to weigh a variety of evidence and factors.
To see how this has been working in practice, New Jersey has seen its jail population drop 19 percent in the first five months after enacting smarter pre-trial system changes. But as important as it is to free defendants who don’t need to be in jail while awaiting trial, protecting public safety is also important. Fortunately, the evidence shows that all crime – including violent crime – decreased during the same year New Jersey adopted many of these changes.
Our group is ready to work with anyone, regardless of political party, to improve our pre-trial justice system. A person’s income should never be used as a proxy for public safety. The time has come to end what amounts to debtor’s prison once and for all.
Click here to read the full op-ed.