New York may join other states in ending cash bails

Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire National Correspondent | 2/20/2019, 6:55 a.m.
A 2017 report revealed how the use of cash bails in the city of Los Angeles spawned a massive industry ...
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A 2017 report revealed how the use of cash bails in the city of Los Angeles spawned a massive industry built on the backs of poor communities of color.

The report, released by UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods Research team, which conducts data mapping projects about the Los Angeles jail system, found that from 2012 to 2016, more than $19 billion in cash bail was levied against people arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department – a figure researchers said only reflected what was set during LAPD bookings and did not include adjustments later made by courts.

The UCLA team concluded that “city residents pay a steep price before their innocence or guilt has been determined,” and noted that the amount of bail levied disproportionately fell onto low-income Blacks and Latinos.

In August 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown responded by signing Senate Bill 10, which takes away cash bail as an option for those who’ve been arrested to be released from jail awaiting trial.

Instead, counties will now follow a pretrial risk assessment algorithm approved by judges to determine whether a defendant should be released, based on the level of the offense.

Also in 2018, Atlanta officials said they too were considering eliminating cash bails.

Many other states began to follow, or at least contemplate the move.

In New York, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand recently joined the Rev. Al Sharpton at a news conference where she unveiled plans to co-sponsor a bill that would do away with bail for nonviolent crimes on the federal level and provide incentives for states that follow suit.

The bill would require that states implement alternative pre-trial systems and reduce pre-trial jail populations if they wish to receive federal funding as part of this incentive program, Gillibrand said.

Also, it would withhold grant funding from states that continue to utilize cash bail.

“There’s an inherent bias that assumes that people who can afford bail will show up to court and those who cannot, will not,” Sharpton said.

“We are just saying that we should not have a nation that detains people based on their economic standing or their race, which also is based in many cases on their economic standing. The bond industry is an absolutely horrendous idea to make profits off detaining people who could be innocent,” he said.

After studying the issue for 21 months, the New York State Justice Task Force has released a report setting forth a number of recommendations regarding ending the use of cash bail in New York State.

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York (DAASNY) has endorsed the recommendations and has now urged lawmakers to examine the study and embrace some of the specific elements in their efforts to improve the bail system in New York.

“Our number one concern is to make sure any changes to the bail system in New York are safe and meaningful,” said DAASNY President and Albany County District Attorney David Soares.

“Defendants charged with certain non-violent crimes should be presumptively released. But there are a small number of crimes which we believe prosecutors should have the opportunity to rebut the presumption of release at arraignment,” Soares said.

Formed to eradicate wrongful convictions, promote fairness, effectiveness and efficiency in the criminal justice system, the Justice Task Force is recommending that defendants facing misdemeanors and certain non-violent felonies be released either on their own recognizance or with the least restrictive non-monetary conditions.

“While everyone at the table does not necessarily agree on every given topic, I can assure you that all the elements and proposals were thoroughly discussed and vetted by this group,” said Soares said.

“I can only hope our lawmakers in Albany take the time to do the same.”

The Task Force also recommended that the presumption of release could be rebutted if there is a significant risk the defendant will not return to court or if the defendant poses a credible threat to an identifiable person or group of persons.

“I believe this would still provide prosecutors with the tools to make sure that dangerous people are not out on the streets causing further harm,” Soares said.