Headlines About Bail Reform Are Meant to Scare, But Lack Facts

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“Bail Reforms are Threatening Your Safety” (August 23-29) screamed the headline of a recent column co-authored by Matt Slater, candidate for the 94th Assembly District.

The column contends that reforms to New York’s bail laws have turned New York’s criminal justice system upside down. It is unfortunate that such a scary but unfounded message was printed in your paper.

In 2019, New York reformed its bail system to limit bail and pretrial detention in nearly all misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases, while preserving bail in other cases. Bail and other conditions can still be set for defendants who are released and re-arrested. In 2019, the average county spent more than $82,000 annually per incarcerated person. The state had a nearly 40 percent decline in jail populations in the first year since bail reform.

Saving tax dollars was only a small part of why these reforms were enacted. They were enacted because defendants with assets could pay bail, while those without assets remained locked up for the crime of being poor. This has caused tremendous harm to communities of color and poor communities in New York.

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was sent to jail on suspicion of stealing a backpack. His family could not make bail for him. He spent three years on Riker’s Island, on charges that were ultimately dismissed because the prosecution lacked evidence against him. He was beaten by guards and attempted suicide. After his release he continued to have symptoms of depression, and killed himself in 2015 at the age of 22. If his family had the resources to bail him out, his story could have had a different ending.

Mr. Slater claims that the bail reform laws have made New York State less safe, without providing any proof of that claim. Yes, serious crime increased in New York City in the period from July 2021 to July 2022 as he claims, but it also increased throughout the entire country. Cities without bail reform have seen the same kind of increases as New York; some have even been worse.

New York State data on pretrial releases between July 2020 and June 2021 show that just 2 percent of those 100,000 cases led to re-arrest for a violent felony. Only one person released under the statewide bail reform law had been charged with a shooting arrest for any offense. Critically, there is absolutely no evidence that bail reform has driven recent increases in violence.

I ask readers to do their own research into whether New York’s bail reform has been worthwhile for all New Yorkers. I believe it has.

Maura Gregory
Mohegan Lake

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