As it grows increasingly clear that the federal government will not lead a reform effort,19 many states20 already are considering—and implementing—programs designed to reduce their prison populations.21 From 2006 to 2014, New Jersey lowered its rate of incarceration by 24%, to 242 per 100,000 from 317 per 100,000.22 The lower rate was achieved by changing the administration of parole, using the sentencing flexibility offered by changes in the law23 and by the drug courts for low-level drug offenders and, most recently, by redesigning practices related to bail and eliminating jail time for many people awaiting trial. Nonetheless, despite these reductions, the number of people filling our jails and prisons remains unacceptably high and fundamentally inequitable.
New Jersey must build on the gains it has made. Reform requires a comprehensive, system-wide approach from the beginning to the end of the criminal justice system. Accordingly, our recommendations track that process through the phases of arrest, bail, sentencing, post-sentencing, and reentry.