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Republican Governors Criticize Bail Reform While Crime Rises in Their States
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Republican Governors Criticize Bail Reform While Crime Rises in Their States

Despite “tough on crime” rhetoric, Republican-led states are not nearly as safe as New Jersey, a state that has ended cash bail.

People stand in line to testify before the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies, which began hearings on bail reform and election integrity bills.
People stand in line to testify before the House Select Committee on Constitutional Rights and Remedies, which began hearings on bail reform and election integrity bills, at the Texas State Capitol in Austin on July 10, 2021. (Getty/Tamir Kalifa)

During the 2022 election cycle, Republicans have focused on crime and worked to use it as a wedge issue. GOP campaigns across the nation—be it the Northeast, Southwest, or just about everywhere in between—have attacked Democrats for their stances on and responses to crime in an attempt to drive the narrative that Republicans are “strong on crime” while Democrats are “soft on crime.” One consistent refrain from these campaigns has been that cash bail reform is a problem for Democrats and makes communities less safe. The state of New Jersey has proven this rhetoric wrong.

Republican governors are targeting bail reform on the campaign trail despite high crime rates in their states

In races for governor, Republicans have constantly bashed their Democratic counterparts for supporting the end of cash bail, labeling the idea as “soft on crime.” In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has attacked his Democratic opponent, Stacey Abrams, over bail reform, claiming she wants to “put dangerous criminals back on our streets, and turn our state into the next California.” In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) blasted bail reform in his State of the State address. And Govs. Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Greg Abbott (R-TX) have worked to enshrine cash bail into their states’ justice system.

Although they each went about it different ways, these Republican governors all came to the same conclusion—ending cash bail is bad for public safety. However, the reality is that the data simply are not on their side. In fact, these four governors have something else in common: The crime rates in their states are far higher than the crime rate in New Jersey, a state that has ended cash bail. In 2020, the murder rate per 100,000 people in New Jersey was 3.70, compared with 5.97 in Florida, 6.64 in Texas, and 7.00 in Ohio. Meanwhile, Georgia’s murder rate was almost three times as high as New Jersey’s, at 10.50.

Crime rates and bail reform: By the numbers

3.70

Murder rate per 100,000 people in New Jersey, a state that has ended cash bail (2020)

6.64

Murder rate per 100,000 people in Texas (2020)

7.00

Murder rate per 100,000 people in Ohio (2020)

10.50

Murder rate per 100,000 people in Georgia (2020)

But the crime problems in these states go far beyond murder rates. In 2021, the United Health Foundation released a ranking of states, on a per capita basis, on the “[n]umber of murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults per 100,000 population.” New Jersey, which implemented bail reform in 2017, ranked as the fifth-safest state when it comes to violent crime. In contrast, Ohio was 18th, Georgia was 25th, Florida was 29th, and Texas was 35th.

New Jersey is proof that bail reform leads to safer communities

Despite Republican leaders’ rhetoric, the numbers show that talking tough on crime doesn’t equate to crime prevention and that successfully implementing bail reform has, in fact, made the people of New Jersey safer.

Prior to bail reform, New Jersey jailed thousands of people not because they were a flight or public safety risk but because they lacked the money to afford cash bail. Unnecessary pretrial incarceration results in devastating effects for individuals and families as well as high costs for taxpayers. In fact, pretrial incarceration for even 23 hours has been associated with increased recidivism rates, as it often causes people to lose their homes, their jobs, and even custody of their children—contributing to the very social and economic conditions that fuel crime.

While the United States experienced a 4.7 percent increase in violent crime in 2020, New Jersey experienced a 5.5 percent decrease.

In pursuit of a safer and more just system, New Jersey implemented comprehensive bail reform through the passage of the Bail Reform and Speedy Trial Act. Key to the success of New Jersey’s bail reform was the creation of a “pretrial services unit” that works directly with people before release to ensure that they understand their conditions and provide them with case management support and assistance throughout the pretrial process.

From 2017 through the end of 2020, 0.15 percent of defendants in New Jersey were assigned cash bail, and in 2020, just 19 people in the state were assigned cash bail. As a result, in the years immediately following New Jersey’s bail reform, fewer people awaited their trial from a jail cell: In 2018, 8,669 defendants were detained pretrial; that number dropped to 7,456 in 2019 and 6,604 in 2020. Despite this, pretrial rearrest rates for serious crime remained stable at 0.4 percent from 2017 to 2019. In fact, 86.3 percent of released individuals remained arrest-free for any crime.

Conclusion

Reforms in New Jersey demonstrate the irrelevance of cash bail in promoting public safety. The vast majority of arrested people are safe to remain in the community as they await their trial, and this remains true both before and after bail reform. Tellingly, while the United States experienced a 4.7 percent increase in violent crime in 2020, New Jersey experienced a 5.5 percent decrease. If bail reform were a threat to public safety, the state with the least reliance on cash bail should be the most dangerous. Yet New Jersey is one of the safest states in the country, while the states of “strong on crime” Republican governors continue to see high rates of violent crime.

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Author

the Center for American Progress Action Fund

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