Daily News: Advocates for criminal justice reform accuse prosecutors, state task force of falling short on bail changes

Activists says bail reform is moving too slowly at the state Capitol in Albany. (Hans Pennink / AP)

Activists says bail reform is moving too slowly at the state Capitol in Albany. (Hans Pennink / AP)

By Denis Slattery
March 04, 2019

A coalition fighting for criminal justice reform in New York says prosecutors and others urging caution on ending cash bail are way off base, arguing the system favors the wealthy despite recommendations from a state task force for some changes.

The advocates, including the Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Citizen Action of New York, said in a statement on Monday that they are looking for “meaningful bail reform that protects the presumption of innocence and maximizes pretrial liberty.” The coalition is led by the non-profit advocacy group FWD.us.

They contend that such reform would promote “the strength and safety of New York communities,” especially minority and low-income areas “that are disproportionately affected by over-incarceration.”.

Advocates are reacting to a February report from the New York State Justice Task Force containing bail reform recommendations. The task force includes judges and representatives of the criminal justice system.

It recommended a presumption of release without bail for people charged with most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, additional training for judges and funding for pretrial services, helping the court ensure defendants return for their next court date, and allowing prosecutors to argue against release if they believe a defendant poses a threat.

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York has endorsed those recommendations.

“Certain groups like District Attorneys Association of the State of New York have long tried to hinder criminal justice reform efforts, especially pretrial reforms, and continue to make false, fear-mongering public safety threats that run contrary to the facts,” the coalition said in its statement.

Albany County District Attorney David Soares, president of the District Attorneys Association, said in a statement on Sunday, ““The time has come for ending cash bail and we want to make sure it is done in a meaningful and successful manner. This means careful consideration of all details of any proposals.

“We have the opportunity to make some of the most significant changes to New York State’s bail system in decades. This is not about fear. This is about facts. DAASNY is not the boogeyman in this discussion.”

Efforts to end cash bail were renewed after the suicide of Kalief Browder, who at age 16 was accused of stealing a backpack and spent three years on Rikers Island awaiting trial because his family couldn’t afford $3,000 bail. His case was eventually dropped and Kalief was sent home. Browder committed suicide in 2015, when he was 22.

Advocates have long argued that the current cash bail system favors the wealthy and adversely affects poor black and Latino New Yorkers.

The median bail set for a misdemeanor arrest in New York City is $1,000, according to the non-profit New York City Criminal Justice Agency. Those for whom bail is set must provide it in full to the court, pay a bondsman to cover it for them, or remain in jail.

Democrats in Albany say they are nearing a consensus on criminal justice reforms, including a bill proposed by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) calling for a complete end to cash bail. mocrats in Albany say they are nearing a consensus on criminal justice reforms, including a bill proposed by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) calling for a complete end to cash bail.

Under current law, judges often set cash bail even for minor offenses.

The coalition said two out of three people in New York’s jails haven’t been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial. And, it cited a 2017 study by researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of Maryland that found individuals who are held in pretrial detention on a felony charge in the city are 7.5 % more likely to be rearrested in the two years following their jail time than those who made bail and were released.

The coalition said the task force recommendations are “out-of-step and regressive when compared to the proposals of the Governor and the legislative leaders who have publicly announced their intention to end cash bail entirely, with far narrower allowances for detention.”

Gov. Cuomo has suggested reforms that include ending cash bail, updating evidence disclosure laws and guaranteeing speedy trials.

Democrats in Albany say they are nearing a consensus on criminal justice reforms, including a bill proposed by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) calling for a complete end to cash bail.

“Thousands of New Yorkers who have not yet been convicted of a crime are languishing in jail simply because they cannot afford bail,” Gianaris told The News.

Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx) is sponsoring legislation to open up New York’s antiquated discovery laws, which currently impose restrictions on when defense attorneys see evidence against their clients. New legislation would allow defendants to see all evidence against them.

Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx) is sponsoring legislation to open up New York’s antiquated discovery laws, which currently impose restrictions on when defense attorneys see evidence against their clients.

“Real, meaningful reform will ultimately reduce unnecessary and unjust incarceration, lead to less recidivism, and create stronger, safer communities and a more just New York,” the coalition said.