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Criminal justice reform advocates to Hochul: Hold the line on reform rollbacks

A group of people hold a black and white "BAD POLICY" banner.
New York NOW
Advocates really at the State capitol against changes to the state's bail reform laws on Monday.

Criminal justice reform advocates gathered in Albany Monday to push back against Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed rollback of reforms in the state budget ahead of the April 1 budget deadline. Reform advocates say the reforms work and the governor is giving in to fear mongering.

Hochul said she expects criminal justice changes to be included in the final spending plan.

“I feel very committed to making sure that we ensure public safety for the state of New York; all New Yorkers deserve to be safe,” Hochul said on March 25. “As well as respecting the rights of individuals.”

Proponents of the progressive reforms to bail law, discovery and other facets of the criminal justice system are worried Hochul’s 10-point public safety package will roll back reforms fought for years and finally implemented in 2019.

The Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus has introduced 10 counterproposals that instead focus on more funding for mental health and other support services.

Vera Institute Greater Justice of New York Director Julian Harris-Calvin said the reforms are working the way they were intended to work.

“We know that bail reform as it currently stands is working to achieve its goals of reducing pretrial incarceration predominantly composed of black brown and poor New Yorkers who are unable to afford to pay their way out of jail,” she said.

Calvin-Harris said attempts to roll back the reforms are not driven by data, but by political fearmongering.

A recent Buffalo News article showed that since bail reforms took effect, only 16% of people charged with a crime and released on their own recognizance in Buffalo City Court were re-arrested.

Partnership for the Public Good Policy Advancement Director Tanvier Peart said Hochul should double down on reforms instead of trying to roll them back, and criminal justice reform groups from across the state have asked her and state legislators to put 1 billion toward community-based gun violence prevention and survivor programs.

“Governor Hochul already alluded to the fact that bail reform is working,” she said. “And said that even if she pushes rollbacks, that it's not going to instantly make things better. And so we need a trauma-informed approach when we're not taking a knee jerk reaction and we're actually investing in the communities that we say we care about.”

Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt (at podium with "FINALLY FIX BAIL REFORM" sign on it), along with other Republican lawmakers and law enforcement leaders.
Karen Dewitt
WBFO Albany Correspondent
Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt (at podium), along with other Republican lawmakers and law enforcement leaders, said New York's bail reform laws need changes at the state Capitol.

Republicans, who are in the minority in both houses of the Legislature, held a news conference Monday with law enforcement groups and district attorneys to press for bigger changes, including repealing some of the laws.

Senate GOP Minority Leader Robert Ortt said Democrats went too far when they changed the laws.

“This wasn’t reform, this was an attempt at revolution,” Ortt said. “They wanted the system to be overturned.”

A poll released Monday by Siena College finds that the public backs making changes to the bail reform laws, said Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg.

“Nearly two-thirds of voters, 64%, think that the bail reforms resulted in the increase in crime that we are seeing right now,” Greenberg said, “including the majority of Democrats.”

And he said a “near-unanimous” 82% of those surveyed believe judges should be given more discretion over whether to impose bail on a defendant.

Greenberg said it’s a reversal from when bail reform was approved in the spring of 2019. Then, 55% said it was good for New York and 38% said it was bad for the state.

He said the public does have reservations, though, about repealing the laws altogether. Most, 56%, say they worry that a reversal would mean Black and brown New Yorkers would be treated unfairly compared to white residents.

Greenberg said respondents are saying, “Don’t go back to where we were, where poor people and people of color can be unfairly and unjustly incarcerated.”

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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