Advocates: Don’t make changes to the state’s new bail law

A bail bonds office in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn House of Detention.
A bail bonds office in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn House of Detention.
rblfmr/Shutterstock
A bail bonds office in Brooklyn near the Brooklyn House of Detention.

Advocates: Don’t make changes to the state’s new bail law

Criminal justice reformers send letter urging leaders to stand firm.
January 8, 2020

A coalition of 60 criminal justice reform groups are sending an open letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders demanding that they don’t change the state’s newly enacted law limiting the use of cash bail.

“Make no mistake,” the letter reads, in part, “retreating from bail reform less than a week after it goes into effect because of predictable fearmongering will be a retreat from New York’s position as a leader in criminal justice reform and will embolden opponents who prefer the status quo.”

Signatories to the letter include the New York Civil Liberties Union, FWD.us, the Working Families Party and dozens of other groups that supported the pretrial reforms which passed as part of the state budget in April. But opponents became highly vocal before the law went into effect on Jan. 1, with Republicans, moderate Democrats, and prosecutors and judges of both parties saying it would make New York less safe. They’ve called for a repeal of the law, or at least changes to allow more defendants to be jailed pretrial, and the state’s top leaders have been listening. Cuomo and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins have both said they would be open to reexamining the law. But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie appears to be standing firmly behind the law as it was passed.

While a full repeal of the bill would be unlikely, more moderate fixes may be politically palatable. One proposed change, inspired by recent attacks on Jewish New Yorkers, would make it easier for judges to detain people accused of hate crimes before trial.

But Erin George, civil rights campaigns director with Citizen Action of New York, told City & State that the groups behind the letter aren’t open to negotiation.

“No rollbacks means no changes,” she said. “That means no additions of so-called predictions of dangerousness, no expanding the list of bail-eligible charges – and that includes additional legislation to include hate crimes as bail eligible – and no expansion of judicial discretion.”

The advocacy groups have been under pressure to defend the law against an onslaught of cherry-picked stories about repeat offenders being released without bail.

They praised the law during a broader rally on criminal justice reforms at the state Capitol on Tuesday. And Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted in support of the law as written on Wednesday morning. Many of the same groups signed on to a similar open letter in November, asking Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins and Heastie to stand behind the yet-to-be implemented law.

“They won the war. They’re losing the peace,” said one Democratic Albany insider. “They seem to have packed up and moved.”

George defended the advocates’ work.

“Real New Yorkers remain in support of these laws,” she said. “And we continue to push out the positive, true narrative. We know that there’s a lot of fearmongering happening right now.”

Jeff Coltin
is a senior reporter at City & State. He covers New York City Hall.
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