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New Study Shows Bail Reform Did Not Spike Crime

NY’s Bail Reform Law had one purpose: to make sure that folks awaiting trial were not being held in custody simply because they could not pay the amount of bail set on them. And it worked since it was enacted over 19,000 accused individuals were given their freedom. Here’s an example of why it went into effect:

Two people commit the same crime and have the same criminal history. One is on public assistance, the other earns $80,000 a year. A judge sets $1,500.00 bail on each of them. One gets out in a day while the other sits in jail for maybe as much as year awaiting trial- if it is a felony charge maybe up to three years. Both are presumed innocent, yet the one person’s poverty causes them to have months and months – and sometimes years – of pre-trial detention, while the middle class or wealthy person can be at liberty. Being detained also makes it much harder to fight your case and see you r family. It leads to a much greater likelihood of acceptance of an early, less-advantageous plea offer. So what you had was thousands of people, mostly young men of color, locked up in places like Riker’s Island, just waiting for their day in court. The other issue was that judges had discretion to raise bail if the accused appeared to pose a “danger to the community.” While that sounds like a rational factor to consider, statistics showed that judges routinely found people of color “dangerous” in higher numbers than white defendants. The term was too subjective an allowed judges to make bail decisions on potentially racially motivated reasons.

The Bail Reform Law was particularly directed at Riker’s Island – NYC pretrial detention center located in the water between the Bronx and Queens. Even after the law went into effect, Riker’s still houses 5,000 individuals in a facility designed for 3,000. The oppressive conditions there were well documented and even after Bail Reform, this year, Riker’s is still averaging one death per month.

Image courtesy of https://campaigns.organizefor.org/petitions/bail-reform-now

Then 2020 and 2021 saw a rise in crime. Particularly in crimes of violence. Even though murders rose at the same rate in “red” cities and states, politicians on the rise tried to tie the rise in crime to bail reform. In my home county of Nassau, ads about bail reform cause a red wave that ousted successful democratic incumbents in the County Executive and Town races. The Nassau District Attorney’s race was allowed to become a referendum on bail reform and the Dem candidate Todd Kaminsky, who in the State Senate championed bail reform, took the ill-chosen path of trying to distance himself from it rather than try to educate voters about the law and how it had zero impact on crime in Nassau County. His opponent who was a mid level assistant district attorney under two long-serving, highly popular Democratic DAs, filled voters’ mailboxes, tv screens, and emails with fear mongering about bail reform turning Nassau County into a post-apocalyptic society. Kaminsky lost in a landslide and took the whole Nassau Dem slate down with him. Similar races occurred across the country as the right pounded the message home.

Well, a report by the New York Division of Criminal Justice that was just released, pointed to statistically insignificant changes in recidivism in New York City since a year before the measures went into effect, with rates of 19% in 2019, 22% in 2020, and 20% in 2021. Outside of New York City, it was 16%, 23%, and 21% for each of the same years, respectively.

There were similarly insignificant differences in failure to appear rates, of 15%, 8% and 9% in New York City, and 17%, 18% and 19% for the same years outside of New York City. Meanwhile, median bail in New York City ranged from $3,500 to $5,000 in 2019; $7,500 to $10,000 in 2020, and was $10,000 in 2021. Outside of New York City, the median bail was $2,500 in 2019; $5,000 in 2020; and $10,000 in 2021, the agency reported.

In New York City, the rate of people released on their own recognizance was actually higher prior to bail reform: 68% last year, compared to 78% in the fourth quarter of 2019. It trended the other way outside of New York City, with the rate of people released on recognizance increasing from 58% during the fourth quarter of 2019, to 73% in the first quarter of 2020. But by the fourth quarter of 2021, the rate had dropped to 59%.

As to the rise in crime, a comprehensive report by the Brennan Center for Justice, shows that the rise in crime is linked to the proliferation of illegal guns and the covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic in particular caused financial instability and insecurity; reduced available funds for mental health treatment; forced low income workers to risk their health by having to work “essential” jobs; and shut down many public spaces like pools, parks and libraries which limited where people could go to relive stress. You can access the Brennan Center’s report here:

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/myths-and-realities-understanding-recent-trends-violent-crime

So what these numbers and reports mean is that Bail Reform did not cause a spike in crime and did what it was enacted to do. Make the criminal justice system a little fairer to poor people. This is a message that progressive politicians and writers need to get out to the public. As the November election comes upon us, you can be sure that the candidates on the right will continue to cite Bail Reform as a failure and a dangerous piece of legislation. The question is will candidates on the left do anything to counter that message?

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Comment below or contact me at omichelen@cuomollc.com

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