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New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) is facing backlash from advocates and legislators over plans to roll back bail reform.
In a $227 billion budget presented to the legislature last month, Hochul proposed billions in new funding for public safety. Alongside those funds, she also called for a significant shift in the main tenet of justice reform.
A 2019 law passed overwhelmingly by the state legislature eliminated cash bail and ended pre-trial detainment for misdemeanors and “non-violent” felonies. For cases that were eligible for bail, judges can only consider a person’s likelihood of returning to court.
Legislators made these changes to help reduce racial and economic disparities in the legal system. However, in the wake of crime spikes after the pandemic, Hochul and others are looking to roll back key reforms.
The New York Governor’s proposal would remove the “least restrictive” language in the reform bill. According to CBS 6 Albany, this change would no longer require a judge to “consider setting a financially reasonable bail” for a defendant.
Hochul says her proposed changes are “about fairness.”
“Confusion is understandable,” Hochul said, referencing the “least restrictive” standard. “I want to make sure we remove that one standard and give [judges] criteria to look at.”
Community leaders and reform advocates urge the legislature to reject Hochul’s proposed changes
In a statement to The BWSTimes, New York City’s Legal Aid Society called Hochul’s move “a desperate political attempt”.
“Governor Kathy Hochul’s hijacking of the budget process to force through rollbacks is not based on merit, but is merely a desperate political attempt to beef up her ‘tough on crime’ bona fides with portions of the electorate,” the statement read. “This is obvious to anyone with eyes to see.”
The organization says Hochul’s changes would lead to “Black and Latinx New Yorkers [being] jailed en masse pre-trial.”
The group says bail reform has made New York safer and urges state lawmakers to reject the governor’s proposal.
“The data continue to confirm that [reform] has only furthered public safety across New York State,” the statement read.
Data suggests bail reform has not led to a significant increase in crime across New York
A recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice confirms that bail reform has not led to a significant increase in violent crime.
The study reviewed nearly 100,000 cases in the state between June 2020 and June 2021 where someone was released pre-trial. It found that only 2% of those released we re-arrested for a violent crime. Overall, the study showed that 75% of people released pre-trial were not re-arrested before their court date.
The study concluded that “80,000 people may have avoided jail incarceration due to cash bail because of the 2019–20 reforms.” Those individuals “went on to pose no documented threat to public safety.”
Eliza Orlins, a public defender and former candidate for Manhattan DA, echoed the concerns voiced by the Legal Aid Society.
“The rollback of bail reform in NY will enable District Attorneys to send more innocent people to Rikers Island to face possible death,” Orlins told The BWSTimes.
“As a public defender who sees the impact of bail reform every day, I want to be clear: what Kathy Hochul is pushing for is unconscionable.”
Hochul’s proposed budget, which includes these expected changes, is likely to face stiff opposition in the legislature this Spring.