New York criminal courts have begun prohibiting cash bails for numerous nonviolent charges. New York follows similar actions taken by California and New Jersey in recent years. Many criminal justice advocates see the cash bail system as a matter of wealth disparity, where the affluent can bond out before their trial while less wealthy people have their lives stalled as they await trial.
Weighing the consequences of bail reform
For years judges have set cash bails based on how likely a defendant would fail to attend their court date. Under the change, judges will release most arrestees without bail leading up to a trial. On the other hand, charges for more violent crimes, sex crimes and domestic violence remain subject to a cash bail system. To better understand the new bail reform, here are some prominent criticisms and defenses of the new law:
- Criticism: Opponents of the law consider the measure a ‘soft-on-crime’ law that puts citizens at risk from repeat offenders. Those who don’t advocate repealing the law in its entirety have proposed modifications, such as hate crime exemptions, citing recent anti-Semitic attacks in NYC. Much opposition has come from the police, district attorneys and lawmakers.
- Praise: Proponents of reform measures point to racial discrepancies in the justice system, leading to higher bail rates for black and Latinx people. Those in favoring reform cite reports, such as the 2019 report Vera Institute of Justice, which highlights how two-thirds of people in jail at present are awaiting trial. In NYC, the duration of pretrial detention averages 13-17 days. The amount of time in detention has the potential to create immense job instability and family strife for those awaiting trial.
Working towards a more equitable system
New Jersey’s reform (which took effect in 2017) serves as a record for the effectiveness of the new law. New Jersey saw a 40% decrease in pretrial detainees without a corresponding rise in crime. The new reform marks a trend of criminal justice changes for lesser, nonviolent charges. If you have a criminal charge, don’t let a subjective system upend your life. You’ll need a skilled criminal defense attorney to help get your life back.