Conservative politicians and pro-police advocates have made a stink of bail reform. Official police union and sergeant union social media pages have called for a rollback of said reform. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has discussed revisions to bail reform.
But is the hysteria surrounding the new law justified?
The AmNews contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union and didn’t get a response, but Executive Director Donna Lieberman said at the beginning of the month that bail reform is a start. Lieberman believes more needs to be done.
“While the bail, discovery and speedy trial reforms are major steps toward justice, New York still has a lot of work to do,” stated Lieberman. “It’s time to overhaul our draconian parole system which subjects people who are rehabilitated and released after serving long sentences to a perpetual threat of arbitrary re-incarceration. It’s time finally to put an end to the abuses of solitary confinement. And it’s time to legalize marijuana and reinvest in the Black and Latino communities who were the targets of all but a tiny handful of marijuana prosecutions.”
The reforms that went into effect at the beginning of the new year reduce the city’s reliance on cash bail, expand criminal discovering and further enforce the right to a speedy trial. New Yorkers facing potential misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges won’t be forced to sit in jail while they await trial. Prosecutors will be required to provide quick access to evidence in criminal cases so those facing criminal charges can make a better informed decision to go to trial or plead guilty. This, according to lawmakers, would reduce the number of people who are coerced into pleading guilty.
Bail reform drew the ire of law enforcement immediately once it went into effect.
“They did not ask a single judge, a single district attorney, a single police chief in the state to comment on this most significant criminal justice reform in the history of New York,” said former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton on “The Cats Roundtable” radio show with John Catsimatidis on AM 970 this Sunday. “And now we are left to pick up the debris that it’s going to create.” Bratton called the new bail reform law a “disgrace” and asked, “What the hell were they thinking about in Albany when they crafted this mind-boggling set of limitations on the criminal justice system?”
The mayor said that he and the City Council should take a look at revisions to the legislation. After a meeting with members of the city’s Jewish community regarding recent anti-Semitic hate crimes, de Blasio agreed that changes should be made.
“They did some very good reforms, but there’s also things that need to be done, particularly empowering judges to determine if someone poses a threat to the surrounding community and giving judges the power to act on that,” said de Blasio to reporters this month.
Law enforcement used the power of social media to express their frustrations with bail reform posting stories of people being let go without bail after committing crimes only to sometimes go commit more. Each tweet was more aggressive than the last.
“Think of the IDIOTS who created a REVOLVING DOOR law to set Criminals free,” read the SBA’s Twitter page. “The EASIEST & SAFEST way to create BAIL REFORM… DONT COMMIT CRIMES.”
The Police Benevolent Association (PBA) used the hashtag #NoBailNY when posting stories in a similar vein. “Do we really expect hardened criminals, the mentally ill, and flight risks to show up to their court dates with no supervision in place?” read one PBA tweet. “Justice will not be served for the victims who continue to be voiceless in this pro-criminal environment.”
NYCPBA Legal joined in on the social media fray, with its Twitter account as well writing, “Has word hit the street that there are no longer consequences for criminal conduct?” using the hashtags #BadBailReform #BadDiscoveryReform #BadRaisetheAgeReform.
New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie took to Spectrum News’ Capital Tonight program to defend bail reform stating that Bratton got it wrong on legislators not speaking with judges or law enforcement officials before voting on bail reform. He also said, “We want to make sure that we have a fair and equitable criminal justice system that tries to remove as much bias as possible. Poor people and people of color have not had the same treatments under the criminal justice system.”
Heastie said there’s been misapplication of the law by judges and that headlines have been sensationalized. One such story involved a man named Gerod Woodberry who robbed four banks in Manhattan between Dec. 30 and Jan. 8. Some media outlets have claimed that because Woodberry used a note in his robberies instead of a gun, New York jails couldn’t keep him in custody blaming bail reform. Heastie said that framing of the story wasn’t based on facts.
“The person was arrested I believe on Jan. 8, for robbing a bank, which was a violation of his parole,” said Heastie on Capital Tonight. “Parole could have just taken him back to jail and judges could’ve issued bail if he wanted to or could have given him electronic monitoring.”
In a joint statement by The Legal Aid Society, New York County Defender Services, Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the groups expressed appreciation for Heastie’s defense.
“Albany cannot let lies and fear mongering from law enforcement undermine these critically important reforms, which have made our criminal legal system more just, fair, and equitable,” read the emailed statement. “Reform has already added transparency by providing access to information and evidence about the accusation, has expedited court processes, helped families stay together and saved thousands across the state from the devastation of unnecessary and overly harsh pretrial incarceration on misdemeanor cases and non-violent felony charges.”
Meanwhile, New York State Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis is using the anti-bail reform sentiment in her run for Congresswoman. New York State Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy endorsed the assembly member for New York’s 11th congressional district challenging current Congressman Max Rose. Langworthy called Rose an “enemy of the president and democracy.” Malliotakis agreed. “Here in New York, Max Rose has supported Mayor de Blasio’s ill-conceived plan to close Rikers Island and Gov. Cuomo’s insane bail reform law that puts dangerous criminals back on the street instead of behind bars in a jail cell,” said Malliotakis. “Chairman Langworthy is right, Max Rose needs to be sent packing.”
But some feel that the push against a new law by a liberal involving law enforcement was destined to be fought against. Activist Josmar Trujillo told the AmNews that anything that brings about real justice for people is met with fear.
“Fear mongering and moral panics is what police and prosecutors recklessly contribute to our society. They are happily joined in this by conservative law makers,” said Trujillo to the AmNews. “That approach is precisely what has led us to eras of mass incarceration and mass criminalization that we are finally trying to rid ourselves of. However, it’s important to note in the past, as in this particular moment of bail reform, law enforcement efforts are carried through oftentimes uncritical media and can also have willing liberal voices––like that of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has kowtowed to the NYPD for more than six years.”
“There should be no rollbacks to the reforms, which are all of two weeks old,” continued Trujillo. “It is time for justice, not more jailing of poor New Yorkers.”