New York Dems Want To Roll Back Bail Reforms. Not So Fast, Says NYC Comptroller.

No secret the United States is home to the highest level of imprisonment in the world. The reasons for this high number are numerous. Opinions differ about what to do, particularly as violence rates in the United States have increased. A new report from New York City’s budget monitor suggests that bail leniency may be having an effect despite calls to cities and states to repeal reforms on cash bail.

New York Democrats passed a bill in 2019 that abolished cash bail and pretrial custody for all non-violent felonies, and almost all misdemeanors. When a judge requires bail money, the judge must consider how much income and financial resources are available to the defendant. These reforms had the goal to drastically reduce the number people in prison because they couldn’t pay.

Opponents complained immediately after the law went into effect, January 1, 2020. They felt it led to more crimes and that they needed to change. The number of offences for which a defendant can be ordered to bail was increased by the legislature in April 2020. After violent crime rose in New York City that summer, NYPD Police Commissioner DermotShea blamed bail reform legislation and the compassionate release some COVID-19 inmates for the increase in crime. Now, Democratic Governor. Kathy Hochul privately pushes to increase the crimes that are eligible for bail. This effectively reverses parts of the bail reform laws.

In a new report, Brad Lander, New York City Comptroller, stated that the bail reforms worked and the state should prioritise “strengthening”. [their] implementation.”

This report examined data from 2019 to 2021. The report found that the overall number of persons subject to bail fell significantly, due in part to both bail reforms, and suspensions of hearings as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic. The rate at which people were released on bail and then remanded before trial was approximately five percent. This is not a result of an explosion in offenders getting out or re-offending.

However, the report revealed that, even though there was a decrease in people being granted bail, bail money totals actually increased between 2019 and 2020. Increased significantly. Even though the law requires that a defendant consider his ability to pay, the average bail amount during that period increased by two-thirds. This meant that only half the defendants who had bail set never got their release. “Even among those who did, most remain in prison for at least some time.”

Final conclusions of the report are that any further rollbacks to 2019’s bail reforms will primarily result in more money being extracted from vulnerable communities, and an increase in the number of City prisoners awaiting trial. It is not clear that these would reduce crime.

Cash bail can be used to guarantee that defendants return to court in time for their trial. However, in practice it can keep poor defendants locked up in jail, while the wealthy and well-off can afford to escape, regardless how serious the crime. A court may use other means to ensure a defendant returns to jail, particularly if it is not likely that he will reoffend. Data is abundant: New York City’s bail reforms work as intended. It would be foolish to reduce them.