State leaders dissuade linking crime increase to N.Y. bail laws

ALBANY — Legislative leaders want other policymakers to stop improperly linking all public safety issues to the state’s bail laws and pose other criminal justice solutions, they said Tuesday, hours after court officials said that New York judges want greater discretion in deciding an offender’s release.

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

“Many judges, if not most of our judges who sit on criminal cases, would like more discretion in making determinations about bail and people accused of crimes,” Marks told lawmakers Tuesday during the Legislature’s budget hearing on public protection. “And I’m not speaking for 100% of our judges, but I think it’s fair to say that … we’d like to have more discretion in those kinds of decisions and feel that they could fairly and effectively make decisions on a case-by-case basis if they had more discretion.”

The Democratic-led Legislature approved sweeping changes to New York’s bail laws in 2019, limiting pretrial detention for most nonviolent crimes to make the system more equitable. The overhauls were amended in 2020 to make more serious offenses bail-eligible, such as criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter.

Legislative leaders have cast doubt that they will amend the bail laws this session, but said Tuesday that they are prepared for hours of discussions this session about public safety proposals to change discovery laws, judiciary discretion or the bail statute.

The Judges’ request for greater discretion confused Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx.

“We’re being asked to give judges less discretion on discovery, but more discretion on bail,” he mused with reporters in the state Capitol Tuesday. “So I’m a little confused if we believe in judges having discretion on one end, but you want to lessen it on the other.”

The bail reform discussion evolved Tuesday with the start of 13 virtual joint legislative budget hearings as lawmakers prepare to negotiate the 2022-23 fiscal year state budget.

Marks replied to Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, that he was unaware of judges ignoring the bail changes.

“I’d have to take issue that judges are deliberately flouting the law,” Marks said. “Judges don’t have a crystal ball. It’s impossible to predict with any certainty what the consequences would be releasing someone to the community or not releasing someone to the community.”

All state judges had training on the 2019 bail law training, and virtually in 2020 when the law was rolled back.

Recently released data from 2021 arraignments reveal about 2% of those out on bail were rearrested for a violent crime.

Republicans, who demand a full repeal of the bail changes, have argued the 2% rate is not a success, saying the 2,000-plus victims and impacted New York families are anything but a mark of victory.

GOP leaders continue to tie the state’s bail laws to rising violent crimes — a trend seen in cities across the nation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reoffenders do not just fall under cashless bail laws, Marks said, noting that several are released on their own recognizance, on nonmonetary conditions or posted bail before rearrest.

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, Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said citing statewide 2020 arraignment data.

“The individuals who posted bail were rearrested at a greater rate than those rearrested on their own recognizance,” Rosado said. “We’d have to do a deeper dive into those cases to determine if they were violent or nonviolent reoffenses.”

The agency did not keep arraignment statistics about violent and nonviolent reoffenses before the bail laws took effect to make an appropriate comparison.

Heastie doubts the rate of reoffenders before 2019 would be much different.

“I can’t imagine 100% of people before we did bail reform didn’t commit other crimes,” he said. “Because judges have let people out. Some people have met bail and still committed crimes.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea A. Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, acknowledged the judges’ desire for discretion, but said their decision-making created the historic system that is more likely to hold Black and Latinos before a trial for the same offense compared to white offenders.

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

“I know judges do want discretion,” she said. “… We cannot pretend there hasn’t been judges’ discretion and that discretion has led, in some cases, nationally and not just here, to a disparity of who gets held and who doesn’t get held.”

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

Leaders are open to more conversations about the larger judicial system and legislative remedies to set appropriate consequences for criminals and more equitable justice practices, Stewart-Cousins said.

The bail reform discussion evolved as Tuesday’s hearing continued, a day after New York City Mayor Eric L. Adams asked state legislators to change the bail law to allow for more judicial discretion when it comes to offenders who pose a continued danger to the community.

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul has voiced support for discussing amending the bail system with legislative leaders, but has declined to publicly give details about her position on what should become of the controversial statute. The governor did not include changes to the law in her executive budget proposal.

“If Gov. Hochul wanted to make changes to bail reform, it would be done,” State Republican Party Committee Chair Nick Langworthy said in a statement Monday. “She likes to talk a good game about the importance of safety, but her actions are the exact opposite, keeping New Yorkers trapped in this crisis.”

Heastie would not provide details of his discussions with Hochul about bail reform. He urged lawmakers to stop using bail reform to wage misinformation in their political campaigns.

“Part of my frustration is, anything bad that happens, ‘it’s gotta be bail reform’s fault,'” Heastie said. “I think it’s unfortunate to link the rise in gun violence solely on bail. If that’s the case, why are we having gun problems all over this country?”

“(The United States) make up two-thirds of the world’s civilian-held guns. No one ever wants to talk about that,” he added.

A declining mental health of all New Yorkers and Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting poverty has likely influenced increasing crime rates, the speaker said.

Other Republican leaders also chimed in about increased violent crime rates in cities across New York, tying the violence to the Democrat-backed bail law changes.

“While their ‘reforms’ may have been well-intentioned, they used a hatchet when they needed a scalpel and have subsequently turned the criminal justice system on its head,” Assembly Minority Leader William A. Barclay, R-Pulaski. “The fact remains, Democrats’ dangerous and misguided policies continue to erode public safety — particularly in underserved communities.”

Barclay again called for an overhaul of the state’s pretrial release policies.

“It is incumbent upon the Legislature and governor to protect every single New Yorker,” he said. “We cannot afford to stand idly by with these current policies in place; people’s lives are at stake.”

Heastie and Stewart-Cousins on Tuesday assailed Republicans for blaming an increase in gun violence on bail reform.

“It’s unfortunate people have found this as an easy way to demonize one side and not do much work,” Stewart-Cousins said. “It’s important to make sure that the justice system works for everyone.”

“Crime spiking is a national issue,” she added. “We can’t incarcerate ourselves out of these problems. … I think we can be better than that.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this story.


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