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REFORM, REDUX: A coalition of state Senators has carved out a plan to roll back portions of the controversial new bail law that would include the elimination of cash-bail altogether but give judges more latitude when determining whether to free a suspect arrested for certain crimes.

The effort to roll back new bail rules looks to be gathering momentum, with a coalition of State Senators, including Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, proposing fundamental changes to the reforms.

The Senators’ plan would eliminate cash bail altogether but expand the list of crimes for which a suspect could be held behind bars. Their proposal, which has not been formalized as legislation, would still oblige judges to release people accused of certain crimes, but would grant them latitude when determining whether to release someone detained in connection with a death, as well as suspects in domestic-violence and hate-crime cases.

Cuomo Backs Effort

The Senators appear to have a key ally in Governor Cuomo, who said on Feb. 12 that the lawmakers’ “concept” was what he had proposed during the prior legislative session.

“Just eliminate cash bail totally but have a check in the system where the judge can use discretion to make sure where people and public safety is respected,” he said during a Long Island News Radio interview.

He suggested that the reforms he signed into law and went into effect on Jan. 1 were akin to a road test. “You have to see how the system reacts and that’s what we’re doing now,” he said of the reforms signed into law April 1 as part of the budget bill.

Still, the Governor suggested that legislators move deliberately as they consider tweaking a law that has been on the books for about six weeks. “You have to separate the politics and the fear from the facts, and let’s actually make the adjustments on facts and data rather than the political storm that we’re in,” he said.

Public Support Ebbs

That tempest developed nearly as soon as the new bail rules went into effect. Following several skirmishes including alleged anti-Semitic attacks on successive days early in the New Year by a Brooklyn woman who was released on her own recognizance following the first incident, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, among others, urged that they be amended.

On a few occasions since, Commissioner Shea attributed double-digit spikes in certain crimes, including robberies, burglaries and car thefts, citywide to the bail changes.  

“So either we forgot how to police New York City or there’s a correlation,” he said on Jan. 24.

Unions representing law enforcement have for some months been adamant that the new bail rules could spread chaos.

“Cops on the street are past the point of frustration, because we saw this new reality coming from a mile away,” the Police Benevolent Association’s president, Patrick Lynch, said in a Jan. 17 statement in which he blamed Mayor de Blasio for fueling a “pro-criminal movement.”

“Every action of our local and city government has aimed to shield criminals from consequences,” he continued.

Another factor in legislators’ rethinking of the bail rules could be the results of a Siena College poll of the state’s registered voters released the third week of January that showed a significant drop-off in support for the changes. While 55 percent of those surveyed last April thought the bail changes would be good for the state, their numbers had dropped to 37 percent in January.

Opposition to Changes

But some key state legislators, notably Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and a bevy of advocate organizations, note that six weeks is too short a timeframe by which to judge the efficacy of the new law.

Mr. Heastie, who to this point has forcefully resisted calls to revisit the reforms, appeared to tone down his opposition in a statement issued Feb. 12.

“As with all new laws, we need to monitor its implementation. We need to differentiate fact from fiction and not rely on sensationalism and cherry-picked stories,” Mr. Heastie said.  “We must use facts and data to determine how the law is working. Finally, we must be careful not to rush to make changes that could cause more people to be incarcerated before their trial and before they have been convicted of a crime.”

But a coalition of five criminal-justice advocate organizations forcefully responded to the Senators’ proposal to reconsider reforms they endorsed just last year, saying it “puts politics ahead of people.”

“If enacted, this proposal would dramatically increase the number of people languishing in jail who are presumed innocent. It would create a system where even innocent people would be incarcerated with no chance of release, even if their families and friends were able to post a bond for them,” the Feb. 12 statement by, among others, The Legal Aid Society and The Bronx Defenders. “Even worse, it presumes that judges, prosecutors and potentially, algorithms, can predict the behavior of other people, something that is proven impossible. “


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