NEW YORK (AP) — Two years into New York’s bold quest to eliminate pretrial incarceration for most crimes, state officials are considering scrapping some bail reforms — and locking up more people when arrested – amid public pressure to curb rising violence.
But New York City’s budget watchdog released a report on Tuesday refuting claims by police chiefs, unions and some politicians that bail reform is driving up crime. These claims, made without evidence, have persisted since the measures came into effect in January 2020.
City Comptroller Brad Lander’s report, based on data from the city and the New York City nonprofit Criminal Justice Agency, found that the number and percentage of people in the city who were re-arrested during their provisional release were lower two years after the reform than they were one year. before the changes. Each time, only a fraction of the arrests involved violent crimes.
Lander urged state lawmakers to think twice before passing tougher measures, such as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan that would make more crimes eligible for detention and give judges more leeway to set bail .
“We think it’s important that policymaking follows facts rather than fear,” Lander, a Democrat, told The Associated Press. “We wanted to look at the data on bond trends and understand what is really going on. The conversation about bail reform has separated from this data.
On the contrary, Lander said, the overhaul of state bail — intended to curb inequality, reduce overcrowding and spare more people from harsh prison conditions — hasn’t gone far enough to reduce bail. incarceration before trial and the collateral effects on poorer New Yorkers.
Many judges are ignoring a provision of the reform law that requires them to consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail for crimes eligible for detention, Lander’s office found. Most defendants who post bail do so with commercial bonds and non-refundable fees of up to hundreds of dollars.
New York eliminated bail for many nonviolent crimes and required court appearance tickets instead of arrests for lesser offenses. The changes began months before the coronavirus pandemic led to widespread closures. In April 2020, lawmakers expanded the list of crimes eligible for pretrial detention, including certain hate crimes, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, criminal possession of a weapon on the grounds of the school, money laundering and criminally negligent homicide.
Criminal justice advocates hailed bail reform as bringing overdue fairness to a two-tier system where those charged with minor offenses – like 16-year-old Kalief Browder – languished in jail, unable to pay small sureties while the wealthy defendants were able to secure release.
Browder spent three years in New York’s infamous Rikers Island prison complex – including nearly two years in solitary confinement – before eventually being released without trial. Later, he committed suicide.
Hochul, who said in January that she would not “bow to pressure” to change bail reform and that she would “do what is right based on all the facts presented to me,” acknowledged Monday that she had recently given lawmakers a 10-point plan. aimed at modifying bail measures.
The plan, first reported last week by the New York Post, calls for allowing judges to consider a defendant’s criminal history and use of firearms when bailing out. , make certain gun crimes and attacks on subway riders and workers eligible for detention, and allow police to arrest repeat offenders for minor offenses that would otherwise warrant a ticket.
Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain who has also called for changes to bail reform in response to a surge in gun violence, said New York is the only state that does not allow judges do not assess the criminal history and potential of an accused. “dangerousness” when released on bail.
Marie Ndiaye, of the Legal Aid Society’s Decarceration Project, said a “dangerousness” provision would have a disproportionate impact on people of color and would only lead to more overcrowded prisons.
“Bail reform has been largely successful, allowing our clients to remain in their communities with their families without measurable impact on public safety,” Ndiaye said. do not commit new crimes and come back for future court appearances.
In December, just over 4% of those on bail were re-arrested, or 1,889 out of 44,560, according to data cited in Lander’s report. Among them, 273 were arrested for violent crimes.
By comparison, the re-arrest rate a full year before bail reform took effect was around 5%, or 2,609 of 57,534 people. Of those January 2019 arrests, 254 were for crimes violent.
Judges still set bail in thousands of cases each year, mostly involving violent crimes, and many defendants are still jailed before trial because they are unable to post bail, according to Lander’s report. .
In 2019, while low-level misdemeanors were still eligible for bail, New York judges set bail in 24,657 cases and the average amount was $19,162, according to Lander’s report. Defendants in these cases posted bail about 63% of the time.
In 2021, with low-level offenses no longer eligible, New York City judges set bail in 14,545 cases, for an average amount of $38,866. Defendants in these cases posted bail about 49% of the time.
That did little to ease the pressure on prisons in the crisis-ridden city, Lander said.
At Rikers Island, where two inmates died last week, the prison population is back at more than 5,600 after falling below 3,900 inmates at the start of the pandemic when arrests slowed and some inmates were released. sent home early.
“The facts in this report show that bail reforms are not responsible for the increase in crime and are still causing people to be held at Rikers for no reason other than that they are poor. “, said Lander. “We should look elsewhere to determine what kinds of public policy solutions and investments will keep all communities safe.”
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