Hochul opens the door to bail reform changes
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday opened the door to potential changes to the state’s controversial bail reform law that went into effect last year, saying she’d work with the Legislature to see if part of the statute should be amended.
Hochul did not say if she, personally, wanted to make changes to the law, but said she would be open to talks on the issue when lawmakers return to Albany in January.
The issue was raised at a meeting Monday morning between Hochul and the powerful Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Caucus of the state Legislature. A few hours later, Hochul told reporters it could be on the table next year.
“I told them, my position is clear,” Hochul said. “I’ll work with the Legislature to address this … to make sure their needs that they hear from their constituents just as much as I do, and we’ll get it done.”
Hochul said, assuming there’s a new conversation around changing the state’s bail reform laws next year, she would also work with incoming New York City Mayor Eric Adams on those changes. Adams said last week that he wants the law changed.
The debate over bail reform has been a hot topic in New York since the state’s new laws were enacted at the start of last year.
The new laws eliminated the option for judges to set cash bail for most lower-level and nonviolent crimes. They were amended last year to allow certain charges to be bail eligible, but critics have said the changes were inconsequential.
Opponents of the law have claimed it’s allowed those charged with a crime to be released, only to commit another crime while they’re out of jail. They’ve called for the law to be repealed altogether.
Cash bail was first created as an incentive for those charged with a crime to show up to court. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t get their money back. Since then, it’s become more of a way for prosecutors to ensure that certain defendants are held until their case is resolved.
New York’s new law on cash bail has been met with ire from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, but mostly Republicans. Democrats, who approved the law, have largely stood by it.
If the law isn’t repealed in full, opponents say the state Legislature should allow more discretion for judges to hold defendants by evaluating their so-called ‘dangerousness,’ or level or risk posed to society upon release.
That way, opponents have said, it would be up to the judge to determine if someone should be held before trial, or let go.
Democrats, mostly in the State Assembly, have pushed back on that idea, saying a rubric to measure someone’s ‘dangerousness’ could have disproportionate outcomes for low-income people and people of color.
When the law was first negotiated in 2019, Democrats soundly rejected the idea of including ‘dangerousness,’ and declined to do so when the statute was amended last year as well.
That may change in an election year during which crime is expected to be a top issue for voters. The rates of some crimes in New York have spiked during the pandemic, but there is no evidence that shows it was a result of the new bail reform law.
Next year’s legislative session is scheduled to begin in January.