The bail reform laws of 2019 came to the fore once more on Wednesday, March 22nd, with legislators debating the efficacy of the laws. The controversial laws have seemingly divided the Democrats in Albany. Governor Kathy Hochul, who insists she represents the will of the people of New York City, wants to have the laws changed as per her budget proposal. Governor Hochul is calling for judges to be given more discretion when deciding whether or not to grant an accused criminal bail.
“We’re not incarcerating people for low-level crimes or criminalizing poverty, but giving judges the discretion necessary to ensure public safety and public opinion is clearly on the side of this clarification for judges,” Hochul said during a press conference at the Capitol.
“This is not just my view, though, this is the view of New Yorkers. So when I go into [budget] conversations, people understand, I represent the majority view of the people of this state,” she also said.
Hochul released statistics that compared 2021 and 2022 crime rates. The number of shootings in New York State decreased by 16% while the crime index increased by 21%. The statistics also showed that re-arrests of people committing violent crimes increased while re-arrests for other crimes, including non-violent offenders, went down.
“Re-arrests are increasing for people with violent felonies while they’re decreasing for people charged with other offenses,” Hochul said. “In other words, a relatively small percentage of people are responsible for a disproportionate share of our public safety challenges. These individuals are the ones who are the focus of our bail proposal.”
While Governor Hochul spoke in favor of changing the bail reform laws, a group of Democrats rallied in the Capitol on the same day. The Democrats who are in support of the bail reform laws claim data from the Department of Criminal Justice shows the laws are working.
Assemblywoman Latrice Walker was adamant that the bail reform laws were there to stay. “We’re not playing games anymore — we’re not staying silent anymore,” Walker said. “The gloves are off. The time is now to put up or shut up!”
“I don’t care what they say! Bail reform is here to stay!” Walker said.
The leaders of the Democrats are open to discussing the matter but are unwilling to see a change in the law. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins once again claimed that she and her colleagues’ judgment regarding the laws was based on the facts placed before them.
“I’m willing to sit down, I’ve always been willing to sit down as is Speaker [Carl] Heastie to really figure out if there is something that would make it clearer but quite honestly, we’ve always looked at data. We always want to look at data, and I really want to be able to match whatever we are doing to a data point,” Stewart-Cousins said.
A group of moderate Democrats is eager to see a tweak in the law.
“It’s a paramount issue for me, and we have to respect that there are many Democrats in the Senate and Assembly who feel we do have to improve on our bail laws and so, let’s try and come to a consensus here with the end goal to make New York a little bit safer,” said Senator James Skoufis.