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New Cash Bail Reforms Under Attack


Last April, New York State voted to eliminate cash bail for most nonviolent crimes, like jumping a turnstile or trespassing. The hope was to reform the justice system, so the amount of money you had on hand didn’t determine whether you went to jail. But since the law went into effect on January 1, there’s been a major outcry from lawmakers and police who say that people being released from jail pose a danger to the public. Anya Schultz has the story.

ANYA SCHULTZ, BYLINE: It’s only been six weeks since cash bail reforms went into effect, and already the state’s jail population has dropped by over a quarter. That's 6,000 fewer New Yorkers behind bars than this time last year. Derrick Cain is with the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, a non-profit that used to help people afford their bail.

DERRICK CAIN: Now people don't have to go to jail, so they don't have to deal with collateral consequences of losing their jobs, losing their children, losing their apartments.

SCHULTZ: Cain says before the reforms, you could only get out of jail before trial if you could afford bail. If you were poor, you were stuck.

CAIN: One day of incarceration is enough trauma to unsettle someone for the rest of their lives.

SCHULTZ: But just weeks after the new rules went into effect, New York City Police Commissioner Shea blamed a January crime spike on bail reform. And last week crowds of cops in uniforms, prosecutors, and republicans politicians in suits rallied in Albany to criticize the new law, including republican senator John Flanagan from Long Island.

JOHN FLANNIGAN: You are less safe today than you were a year ago. There are people out on release who never should have been released or given bail.

SCHULTZ: Some Democrats are also concerned. Representatives from Long Island, where local press highlighted crimes committed by those released without bail, have their own plan. For nonviolent crimes they want a judge to determine who gets released before trial. But other democrats disagree. And so, yet another rally was held in the state capital on Wednesday.

SCHULTZ: Assembly member Tremaine Wright from Brooklyn said putting judges in charge is a step back.

TREMAINE WRIGHT: This is a Jim Crow style rollback and we are definitely moving in the wrong direction. There is no way on earth that we can stand here with our heads held high and say that we are now going to allow judges to have formalized ways to use bias and discretion, which really means discrimination.

SCHULTZ: All this debate is occurring just 44 days after the new law has taken effect. Lauren Jones, from the Vera Institute, a criminal justice research organization, says for data to be used effectively, we need more of it.

LAUREN JONES: I'm a Mets fan and as any Mets fan knows, if you look at just the first three weeks of a season, that unfortunately doesn't predict how the team's gonna do for the year.

SCHULTZ: But, she says what we can do is look at states like New Jersey. It ended cash bail three years ago. Since then, she says, the state’s crime rate has dropped by 30 percent. Anya Schultz, Columbia Radio News.

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