January 1, 2020, brought criminal justice reform to New York State. This new law prevents judges from setting cash bail or imposing pretrial detention for most people awaiting trial. The goal of bail reform was to prevent non-violent offenders who can’t afford to pay from being kept in jail.
The reactions to the new law have been mixed. Some call it a failure and want it to be repealed. Others say it’s too soon to know what the effects are, and that the goals are important enough to stay the course. And others feel that the law can work as intended – with a few adjustments. Here are the thoughts on the current bail reform.
Objections to Reform
Under the new rules, most people who are awaiting trial will not be kept in jail. For many in law enforcement and prosecution, that number is just too high. They worry that this will lead to an increase in crime, and early numbers suggest that they may be right.
The preliminary statistics from police departments in the state are uneven. Some show no change in the incidence of crimes, while other numbers are alarming. For example, the Buffalo Police Department reported that there were 110 burglaries reported in January of 2019, and that number grew to 173 in 2020. Similarly, larcenies increased from 388 to 549, and vehicle thefts went up from 59 to 102.
There is also concern that if people aren’t in the jails they cannot take advantage of programs that are available to help with things such as substance abuse and anger management.
Arguments For Reform
Supporters of the reform argue that the laws address serious inequities in the law. Bail has the largest impact on impoverished minorities, while people who can afford to pay have always been able to avoid jail time. Being kept in jail also has a larger impact on poor people, who are rarely able to miss days at work without losing their jobs.
Those in favor of bail reform also point out that it’s too early to judge the impact of the new laws. More time and comprehensive statistics are needed to determine results.
Calls for Compromise
Some feel that the reform act doesn’t need to be repealed, but that it would work better with changes. Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn thinks the laws can achieve what was intended without sacrificing public safety. He’d like to see bail be reinstated for certain categories of offenders, such as second-degree burglary, and people who commit more crimes while charges are still pending.
New York’s bail reform act has its fans as well as its detractors. Its goal is to ease an unfair burden on minorities who have fewer resources, but lawmakers worry that it may lead to more crime. Hopefully, with some carefully chosen changes, everyone’s concerns can be answered.