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NY Bail Reform Law Shows General Decrease in Rearrests

As New York lawmakers square off over whether to retreat from a 2020 bail reform law, a new study says the law reduced the likelihood that someone would get rearrested, partly debunking a key claim by critics, Gothamist reports. But the one exception bears directly on the debate over the fate of the law, which eliminated New York judges' ability to impose bail for crimes deemed low-level and non-violent. While the study by John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice showed that rearrest rates declined in most categories, they increased slightly for bail-eligible people who were released following recent violent felony arrests. “Fundamentally, we found that eliminating bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies reduced recidivism in New York City, while there was no clear effect in either direction for cases remaining bail eligible,” said Michael Rempel, director of John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice, in a statement.

The reforms were designed to reduce incarceration and stop jailing people just because they could not afford to post bail. But since the laws went into effect, politicians who oppose bail reform, such as Democratic Mayor Eric Adams, and conservative outlets like The New York Post, have argued that the laws went too far and led to violent criminals roaming free on city streets. The study found that the two-year rearrest rate for those released due to bail reform was 44%, compared to 50% for those with similar charges, criminal histories, and demographics who were held in jail in the period before the reform. It also took longer for those released as a result of bail reform to get rearrested than those forced to do a stint in jail after being charged. The study did not delve into the reasons behind their relative lack of recidivism among those who were released without having to pay bail. Experts have said that even temporary incarceration can lead to termination from jobs, family disruption, and housing loss, which can incentivize further criminal activity. In a move opposed by the progressive wing of her Democratic Party, Gov. Kathy Hochul is now seeking to eliminate the mandate that judges impose the “least restrictive condition” necessary on those charged with crimes still eligible for the imposition of bail, like violent felonies. The change would give more discretion to judges to allow them to impose higher bail amounts in order to keep more people locked up pretrial if they can’t afford to pay. But opponents say the proposal is unconstitutional.


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