New York State’s bail reform law debate rages on

The statewide political tug-of-war over New York’s cash bail reform laws continues nearly two years after a series of sweeping reforms went into effect.

The original iteration of the law went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, eliminating cash requirements in a sweeping number of pretrial cases, save for violent felonies. Six months later, a range of offenses – including crimes resulting in death and second-degree burglary – were added back onto the list.

But as 2021 inches toward the finish lines, state lawmakers and other advocacy organizations continue to seek out new changes.

On one end of the argument, concerns have been raised about repeat offenders committing crimes; on the other end, continued calls for racial and income equity have been sounded on the argument cash bail requirements unfairly punish lower income people.

“The Assembly Majority has fought tirelessly over the years to deliver meaningful and necessary criminal justice reforms for our state,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-The Bronx, said in a statement last year.

Law enforcement organizations have been critical of the bail reforms that have been in effect. A number of groups pushed for a rollback of the original law that went into effect at the beginning of 2020.

A range of concerns, from an increase in violent crimes to drug trafficking spikes in some areas of the state, have bubbled to the surface in recent weeks as further calls have been made to tighten bail reforms.

“There’s a solution to this gun violence pandemic,” the Detectives’ Endowment Association wrote in an Oct. 2 social media post. “We need CONSEQUENCES for those arrested for violence and gun crimes. There have been historic numbers of gun arrests, but immediate release is not the answer. Politicians need to fix their failing laws.”

State Sen. Daniel Stec, R-Queensbury, is among a group of upstate lawmakers urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to give judges more discretion in holding certain felony drug offenders.

“The ‘revolving door’ of justice created by bail reform gives felony offenders plenty of leeway to do what they want with little to no regard,” Stec said in a Sept. 21 statement. “Drug dealers are being arrested for very serious crimes and within hours returning to their community to continue selling.”

A full picture of year-over-year statewide crime statistics between 2019 and 2020 likely will not come into sharp focus until late this year, when the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services delivers its annual report.

But local law enforcement agencies, such as the New York Police Department, have offered a dashboard of data. Since bail reforms went into effect, crime statistics within New York City have been mixed.

According to a 2020 year-end NYPD report in January, the city ended the pandemic-fueled year with a historic low in overall index crimes. But that upbeat statement was thwarted by spikes in a number of serious crimes, including homicides, shootings, burglaries and car thefts.

The NYPD’s most up-to-date CompStat report, through Sept. 26, reveals cases in the six most serious crime categories are 0.38 percent less than a year ago at the same time period.

Through the last stretch of the third quarter of 2021, for example, there were 348 murders on record, down from 357 murders a year ago. But felony assaults have been on the rise – from 15,384 cases in September 2020 to 16,413 cases in September 2021.

Reform proponents have been seeking other related changes to the state’s law books this year.

One example is the Less is More Community Supervision and Revocation Reform Act, which Hochul signed into law last month. The legislation changes some of the standards that had been in place as determinants for community supervision and parole.

“Our fellow New Yorkers on parole deserve to re-enter society with our support and respect,” Hochul said at the time of the signing. “Re-incarcerating parolees for technical violations traps them and doesn’t help our communities.”

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