In 2019, New York state changed its laws so that fewer people arrested would languish in jail because they could not afford bail. A backlash led to tweaks intended to toughen the law. Soon after, a pandemic-era rise in gun crime began. Gov. Kathy Hochul has proposed a broad set of alterations that would expand judicial discretion and effectively increase the number of crimes eligible for bail. The proposals have made many Democratic lawmakers furious: Assemblywoman Latrice Walker of Brooklyn is on a hunger strike to protest the governor’s plan, reports the New York Times. Hochul has portrayed her changes as targeted fixes rather than a full rollback. “Blaming bail reform for the increase in violence that cities across America are facing isn’t fair and isn’t supported by the data,” she said in an op-ed with Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin.
The leaders said the laws still needed changing. They cited rates of repeat offenses that they said were unacceptable, adding: “These repeat offender rates were a failure before bail reform, and they remain a failure today.” The question of whether to revisit bail reforms has consumed the political conversations around crime for months, overshadowing negotiations over the state budget as the April 1 deadline approaches. In New York, unlike every other state, judges can use bail only as a tool to ensure that defendants return to court. They cannot take into consideration the harm a defendant may pose to others. The 2019 tightly controlled judicial discretion, and the ability to set bail was limited to a smaller range of crimes, most of them violent felonies. Judges were instructed to consider a defendant’s ability to pay bail and choose the “least restrictive” means to ensure their return to court. The rate of those who have been rearrested while they are awaiting trial has been largely unaffected by the changes in the law. Marie VanNostrand, a criminal justice scholar who has studied New York City’s data, has seen an increase in offenses among people who had been released to await trial after being charged with violent felonies.