State GOP blasts bail reform inaction

NEW YORK — They hold the minority in both chambers of the Legislature, but Republicans across the state aren’t giving up on hounding Democrats to change the state’s bail laws after legislative leaders this week seemed reluctant to revisit them.

About a dozen state and New York City Republicans took their cries to amend the state’s cashless bail laws downstate Thursday, standing outside New York City Hall in Manhattan. The GOP has typically rallied over the law in Albany or upstate communities.

Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, has led the 20 Republicans in the Senate Minority Conference to tie the recent increase of violent crimes and incidents to the changes Democrats voted to limit pretrial detention of most nonviolent crimes in 2019.

“People are afraid to be here, to work here,” Ortt said. “It is happening as a direct result of the policies that have come out of Albany, the policies that have come out of New York City government … and anti-police rhetoric.”

Homicides are below their peak of the 1990s, but increased in New York by 29% in 2020. About 77% involved a firearm. Cities across the nation — in states without bail reform changes — have seen a similar increase in armed burglaries, homicides, shootings and other violent incidents since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Recently released data from 2021 arraignments revealed about 2% of those out on bail were rearrested for a violent crime — a number Republicans say is unacceptable.

But accused offenders who post bail are rearrested at higher rates, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. About 30%, or 906 of 2,986 people who posted bail in NYC were rearrested in 2020.

In the rest of the state, about 32%, or 619 out of 1,963 people who posted bail, were rearrested.

“We’re asking for judicial discretion — let a judge determine if this person is likely or unlikely to be a danger,” New York City Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli said.

Borelli stood with fellow council members Vickie Paladino and Inna Vernikov and Sen. Pam Helming, R-Geneva, who all said their constituents have expressed fear to ride the subway or visit public areas of the city because of the recent rise in crime.

Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, became one of the first Democratic state lawmakers to urge leaders to make changes to bail reform, citing rising violent crime statewide. Jones worked as a corrections officer for nearly 20 years.

“I voted against bail reform in 2019 because I was concerned about how it would negatively impact public safety,” Jones said in a statement Thursday.

Jones advocates for expanding judicial discretion and held a 2020 bail reform roundtable with members of law enforcement, district attorneys and emergency responders he said expressed concerns about the law.

Most judges who sit on criminal cases in the state’s Unified Court System would advocate for more discretion in deciding to detain or release a charged criminal offender, state Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks said during an unrelated budget hearing Tuesday.

“Since bail reform was passed, many North Country residents have reached out to my office because they are concerned about these new reforms, including social service agencies and addiction services organizations that are able to provide important mental health and addiction support while people await their trial in jail,” Jones said.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat and former New York City Police Department captain, asked state legislators Monday to change the bail law to allow for more judicial discretion to determine accused offenders’ level of dangerousness.

Jones cited Adams’ recent remarks.

“It’s time that we listen to people who have experience in law enforcement and bring those perspectives to the table when discussing bail reform,” the assemblyman added.

State Democratic leaders this week have said they are open to discussions with colleagues, but they do not intend to revisit or change the state’s bail statutes this session because the data do not show the law has led to an increase in crime.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, on Tuesday said that greater judiciary discretion has been part of the problem.

“I obviously do not want to paint everybody with the same brush, there are some amazing judges, but there has been, systemically, a result when left just to discretion, that somehow, over-incarcerates Black and brown and poor defendants,” she said.

Young Black male defendants are 50% more likely than white defendants to be held or pay cash bail for the same criminal offense.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, expressed confusion about why the same officials calling to give judges greater discovery on setting bail also advocate for less discretion on discovery laws.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday joined Heastie and Stewart-Cousins in casting doubt that bail is tied to the rising violent incidents, stressing the need to stop the high number of illegal firearms flowing into New York from other states with more lenient gun regulations.

“I’m looking for the data that shows me that bail form is the reason that, somehow, crime is going up in 90 of 100 cities in New York, why guns are flowing from Georgia with more frequency in Virginia and Ohio to here than they were,” Hochul said before the Interstate Task Force on Illegal Guns met for the first time Wednesday.


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