Opinion: Why bail reform is worth defending from politicization

Unfounded rhetoric fuels the argument for rollbacks and overlooks the facts.

Vincent Schiraldi argues that unfounded rhetoric is fueling the push for bail reform rollbacks.

Vincent Schiraldi argues that unfounded rhetoric is fueling the push for bail reform rollbacks. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Recently, after weeks of resisting efforts to roll back hard-won changes to New York’s bail laws, Gov. Kathy Hochul capitulated to pressure from rivals within her party (including former-Gov. Andrew Cuomo) and across the aisle and formed plans to weaken bail reform. This turnabout by Gov. Hochul, who until recently had urged patience on this issue, and former Gov. Cuomo, who signed two bail reform laws just since 2019, has some suggesting that public safety is becoming a political cudgel. 

“I don’t think our public safety should be politicized,” stated Sen. Jessica Ramos. State Republican Chair Nick Langworthy said “Kathy Hochul is the definition of a craven, phony politician. She said she wouldn’t budge off the bail law … but her disgraced former partner Andrew Cuomo pipes up and all of a sudden, she has seen the light.” As hyperbole and abrupt policy reversals get invoked with abandon, it is important to remember why bail policy was reformed in the first place and examine what its outcomes have been so far.

New York’s landmark bail reforms went into effect in January 2020 in order to separate liberty from wealth and safely reduce the incarceration of people accused of non-violent offenses and misdemeanors. In the lead-up to the reforms, two nationally-publicized New York cases galvanized attention to the issue. 

Kalief Browder was incarcerated pretrial for three years in New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail at age 16 for stealing a backpack because his family was unable to pay $3,000 bail. There, he was physically abused by staff and other incarcerated people and spent two years in solitary confinement. He consistently maintained his innocence and the charges against him were ultimately dropped. Two years after his release, he committed suicide.

In 2018, movie producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of rape and sexual abuse. He immediately posted $1 million bail and was freed. Even when his bail was doubled after he mishandled his electronic monitor (57 times!), he was able to avoid pretrial confinement.

As civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson has said, it seems as though the system “treats you better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent.”

The reforms that passed in 2019 were a compromise between those defending the status quo and those who wanted money bail completely abolished. The new law allowed bail to be set for those arrested for violent offenses but not for most non-violent offenses. In 85% of cases where bail is set, it is unaffordable and the person is incarcerated pretrial like Kalief Browder was. 

Pretrial rearrest rates have been almost identical pre- and post-bail reform. In 2019, the year prior to the reforms, 95% of those released pretrial in New York City were not rearrested for violent felonies, similar to 97% who were not rearrested (statewide) for violent felonies after bail reform went into effect. Fewer than 1% of those released pretrial after bail reform were arrested for a firearm charge.

Although shootings and homicides have risen in New York over the last two years, they have risen nationally as people grapple with severe disruption and attendant psychological effects from the pandemic. More than a dozen cities that did not enact bail reforms had increases in murders exceeding New York City’s. After former Police Commissioner Dermot Shea attributed the city’s increase in shootings to bail reform, the New York Post examined data on 528 shootings over the first six months of 2020 and found that just one person released under the reforms had been charged with a shooting. 

Opponents of the reforms and some news media have been so eager to blame violent crime on bail reform that there have been several occasions of inaccurate reporting followed by (less well publicized) story retractions. On January 13, 2020, Newsday erroneously reported that bail reform was why a Long Island man who had three prior DUIs was released pretrial after he was arrested for a fatal DUI. While that story got 30,500 interactions on Facebook, Newsday’s retraction received only 2,100 interactions.

Pretrial detention may actually make us less safe, as it rips people away from their homes, jobs, and families. Research in New York City, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Houston has found that people detained pretrial have a modestly greater risk of offending upon eventual release. As Correction Commissioner, I saw people come out of Rikers Island’s awful jails worse than they entered every day.

In over 40 years in criminal justice, I’ve often witnessed elected officials seek to aggrandize themselves during times of heightened fear. That is how the current era of mass incarceration was born, leaving the United States with 4% of the world’s population and around 20% of the world’s prisoners. The Assembly and state Senate should resist calls to roll back bail reforms any further, and instead expand pretrial supports and supervision for those who need them.

Vincent Schiraldi is former Commissioner of New York City’s Departments of Correction and Probation. He is a Senior Fellow at the Columbia Justice Lab and Senior Research Scientist at the Columbia School of Social Work.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.