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State Lawmakers Remain Split on Whether Bail Reform Laws Need Changing

Feb. 19, 2020 By Kristen Torres

Lawmakers are split on whether or not to back the state’s six-week-old bail reform law, which has ignited fierce debate among elected officials, the police and criminal justice advocates since it went into effect on Jan. 1.

The new law eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent offenses, giving judges no choice but to let offenders go while they await trial on an array of non-violent charges. Such charges include stalking, burglary, many drug offenses and certain robberies.

However, after several high-profile incidents of people being released under the new reforms—and then re-offending soon after—many want the law to be reviewed.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the senate majority leader, is one of them and told Newsday that law is being re-evaluated.

Stewart-Cousins said that she is working on a new proposal that would eliminate cash bail on all crimes but would give judges discretion to remand people who have been charged with an expanded list of violent felonies and misdemeanors.

The proposal would give judges judicial discretion on whether or not to hold suspects based on their criminal history as well as the risk of them not showing up to trial.

“We would give judges some discretion but with extremely strict guidelines and guardrails,” Steward-Cousins said in a statement.

The goal of making sure that someone doesn’t sit in jail because they can’t afford to pay bail would be preserved.

“Simply put, the reforms will ensure that no one will be incarcerated simply because of their inability to pay and that no one will be let out of prison because of their enormous wealth,” Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

Stewart-Cousins has yet to disclose any revised legislation.

Bail reform has been heralded as a necessary measure to combat the racial injustice of the state’s criminal justice system, but has also become one of the more divisive topics among elected officials in recent weeks.

Assembly Member Catalina Cruz, who represents Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights, remains a staunch supporter of the bail reform law.

She said the legislation took “years to finalize” and is pushing her colleagues to wait off on rolling back reform measures just yet.

“For a very long time we were criminalizing poverty, and now we have something in place that creates a more equitable system,” Cruz said.

Cruz also said it is too early to determine the effectiveness of the bail reform law.

“If they [opponents] come in six months and show evidence otherwise, then I’ll think about reconsidering,” Cruz said. “But the only evidence I see right now is racism and playing politics with peoples lives.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, like Cruz, has made it clear that he too doesn’t want the reforms rolled back.

State Senator Jessica Ramos tweeted in support of the reforms last week, writing that bail reform lets people “access support services” and “remain home with family.”

However, Ramos would not comment on Stewart-Cousins’ proposal.

State Senator Joseph Addabbo, however, said he is willing to consider the new proposals, and said legislation oftentimes has to be monitored and reworked. He said his constituents are specifically concerned with recidivism rates among offenders.

“Many times we do legislation with good intentions, and you have to sit back and monitor the effects to determine what changes need to be made,” he said.

“But I believe my leaders are on the right track to try and work out a credible, realistic solution to bail reform,” he added.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, who sponsored the bail reform legislation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The progressive caucus of the New York City Council—which includes Queens Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer, Donovan Richards, I. Daneek Miller and Antonio Reynoso—penned a letter of support on Feb. 15 for the current reforms, arguing the policies are necessary to end mass incarceration. They urge state lawmakers not to make changes.

“These laws were designed to create a fairer system by ensuring that innocent people are no longer deprived of their freedom simply due to the size of their bank account and the color of their skin,” the letter said.

The letter also said the state should be finding more ways to invest in social services that help people stay out of jail, including mental health facilities, schools, pretrial services and housing.

Critics of the reform, however, said the new legislation is “dangerous.”

George Grasso, the supervising judge of Bronx Criminal Court, has been a dissenting voice to the reforms, and said the need for “judicial discretion” is paramount for the criminal justice system.

“New York does not let judges consider ‘dangerousness’ but instead resorts to twisted logic,” he said in a statement. “We should stop the charade now—judges should be trusted to consider dangerousness and public safety in appropriate cases.”

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea has criticized the reforms, arguing that the recent crime spike can be attributed to the new law. He wants judges to have greater discretion to keep career criminals behind bars while awaiting trial.

Shea has been in Albany talking to legislators.

However, Councilmembers Donovan Richards and Rory Lancman argue that Shea is fearmongering.

They sent him a joint letter earlier this month saying that he is painting a “false narrative” and that statistics indicate that bail reform is not responsible for the uptick in crime.

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9 Comments

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ABoondy

the worst criminals are the state lawmakers. zero accountability, as always, and now there’s a fully controlled NY democrat government with a minority GOP. what did you expect? just watch the debates to see what they will conjure up next. how many more lives have to be destroyed because of these NY politicians? you never see NYC criminals EVER attacking them. its always the hard working taxpayer that gets targeted.

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Nick

As usual pandering to black and brown criminals by politicians is a complete failure and will simply drive more people out, raise crime rates and taxes. New York is in a very perilous situation as it easily has become the number 1 state people are leaving with Jersey number two.

We now let criminals out of jail with zero discretion due to the never ending ass massages we give non whites. In fact that one criminal arrested over 100 times was thanking the Democrat Party for doing it. Lol. And the lunatic left wonders how President Trump has so much support and will probably win again. Utterly absurd laws like no cash bail is a prime example. Another failure in racial pandering!

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Reggie

Why do I have the feeling that some of these politicians who supported the law are now trying to cover their butts because they know they screwed up?

Revise the law to allow for judicial discretion. The fact that they didn’t give judges the power to continue a defendant’s detention based on the seriousness of the charge or criminal history in the first place goes to show just how incompetent these lawmakers are.

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In LI they killed the witness

After MS13 criminals paid their bail they went directly to kill the witness.

People does not commit crime and go to jail because they are “poor and innocent and police is biased”. The grounds for this law are so weak and made up, no prior study, nothing.

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Nancy Frank

What scares me about this new Bail Law, is that repeat offenders are getting out of Jail & going out & doing worse crimes, this has been happening frequently!! What about 1, 2, 3 Strikes your out!! Or even after 2 Crimes. Shouldn’t we be protecting our Innocent Citizens and not protecting Repeat Offenders? How are we deciding whether or not a Crime is Violent? Rape’s violent; Beating another Person up is a Violent Crime!! Who really needs our Protection?? Plus, what is this telling our Police Officers, put your life at risk; but, who really cares; the Judges will just be forced to let them go free, anyway, so why bother. We can’t just allow all Criminals, no matter what they do, to get off Scot Free & commit an even more Violent Crime!!

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Anonymous

There are no non-violent robberies by definition. All robberies involve force or the threat of use of force.

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Do someone knows

Where the bail approvers live?
I have this strong desire to vandalize their homes, pay a bail and laugh of what I did while I watch the Mets game
If they press charges I can call them biased, easy as that.

23
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Mac

No bail whatsoever, for violent crimes, crimes involving weapons and recidivist regardless of severity (misdemeanors or felonies). Bail for first time offenders only and worked out by judges and prosecutors not mandate. If concern over the constitutional right to a speedy trial are of concerns then increase the budget of the courts to facilitate this constitutional requirement.

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We are criminalizing poverty

I didn’t know that criminals were in jail because they were poor, always thought it was for commiting a crime…
BDW,if you can pay a bail you are not poor, real poor people is working really hard to get a minimum wage, not robbing and attacking people on the streets.

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