Tonight, in a local jail somewhere in New York State, a person who is presumed innocent will sit behind bars because she could not afford the bail set in her case, trying to decide whether to accept a plea deal without seeing the evidence against her or to contest the charges in a trial that could be months or years away.
As the governor and state lawmakers wrestle with weighty issues like congestion pricing and marijuana legalization during the state budget process, hope has slightly dimmed that they will address the problems playing out in that jail cell and others.
But Tina Luongo, the chief defender of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal practice, says she is still optimistic that state leaders will come together on meaningful reform of the bail system, make improvements to the state’s flawed rules on discovery and add teeth to speedy trial provisions in New York law.
“I still think Albany can get his done. I think there’s a moral imperative,” she said, adding later: “I think everyone is prioritized on getting it done.”
The important thing, she told WBAI’s Max & Murphy Show on Wednesday, is that New York adopt the right reforms. Merely replacing cash bail with a system that permits widespread pre-trail detention of people under some over-broad definition of “dangerousness” would defeat the purpose, of reform, she said.
Luongo also made clear that more than a statutory change is in order.
“This is systemic reform, so it does require resources to get it done, to make sure that it’s not just changing it on the books, but that it has an impact on people who ned it he most,” she said. “There are resources that are going to have to come behind it. Everybody knows you cannot have an unfunded mandate here. It has to be a seismic shift.” The possible need for more supervised release programs in the absence of cash bail and the potential demand for more judicial or prosecutorial resources to adhere to new speedy trial resources are two elements of the reform package that could necessitate public spending.
Listen to our conversation below, or listen to the full program, which includes an interview on the state budget with Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
The Legal Aid Society’s Tina Luongo
March 13, 2019: Full Show