To the Editor: This publication recently stated (Jan. 10 issue) that proponents of bail reform should “have their heads examined” for not having given judges the ability to automatically incarcerate out of public-safety concerns.
Much has been said about bail-reform proponents stripping away discretion from judges. What’s always left out of this argument is that before the bail reform, the only factor legally available for a judge’s consideration was flight risk, not public safety. It has been this way since 1971, nearly 50 years.
That means that any judge who intentionally set bail just out of reach for a defendant they felt was a danger to public safety was violating both the law and their oath of office. Anyone who could afford bail, whether they were a risk to public safety or not, would be set free. Those too poor to afford freedom sat in a cage.
The editor feels that a homeless man who allegedly punched a cop being released pending his court date was “a travesty of justice.” Under the old system, that presumably cash-strapped homeless man probably would have sat in jail, but someone else accused of the exact same crime in the exact same circumstances who had $1,000 in their back pocket would be immediately set free—“no concussion, no foul.”
That is not equal justice. Next time you take a look at a NY state flag perhaps ask yourself why the blind lady is holding a balanced scale.
This new law has the ancillary benefit that instead of just locking up the poor, the state’s limited resources can be better used to track violent offenders with community monitoring and electronic tracking. It’s not just more humane and equitable, it’s also more economically responsible.
I understand why people feel frightened by the thought that city is just putting violent people back on the street without taking action. But despite the public’s common perceptions, bail was never about public safety to begin with. It was about attaching financial burdens to missing a court date.
Change can be difficult, but change that promotes what the justice system is supposed to be about—equality before the law—is a change for the good.
Editor's reply: Mr. Goodman is right that danger to the public has not been a basis for judges in New York State to set bail. That doesn't mean it makes sense, as was proven by the release of the homeless man who without provocation punched a police officer; at the least he should have been required to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
If state legislators and the Governor had been committed to true reform while greatly reducing the number of cases where bail could be required, they would have joined other states in using "dangerousness" as a factor in triggering the setting of bail. Instead, in the wake of a public outcry over several egregious cases, they have been embarrassed into revisiting the flawed new law, and will hopefully get it right the second time.
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