‘The likely consequences of Hochul’s plan—job loss, family separation, lack of medical and mental health care and drug treatment, and more school absences—would destabilize families and communities and, ultimately, exacerbate the problems she aims to address.’
Despite assurances to voters that she would “not cave to pressure,” Gov. Kathy Hochul has ceded her policy agenda to law enforcement hardliners, political opponents, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams by proposing a sweeping set of “law-and-order” criminal legal reforms.
With just days remaining before New York State’s budget deadline, Hochul’s last minute plan—which was dropped on the same day of another tragic death at Rikers Island—would roll back bail reform and expand pretrial detention rates statewide, while doing nothing to advance true safety. Even worse, if implemented, the proposal would eviscerate the hard-fought progress made by communities most impacted by violence to mitigate the harms caused by an unforgiving, criminal legal system over the last decade, which evidence shows will make New York less safe.
Every agency, institution, and publication that has evaluated New York’s 2019 bail laws has concluded that there is no evidence suggesting that the reforms have caused a spike in shootings and homicides since their implementation. This includes agencies and organizations with close ties to state and local government like the New York City Comptroller’s Office, Center for Court Innovation, New York City Criminal Justice Agency, and Vera Institute for Justice. It also includes groups on different ends of the political spectrum, including my own organization, Envision Freedom Fund, versus publications known for supporting law enforcement like The New York Post and Reason magazine.
Even the governor agrees that bail reform is not to blame for the increase in violence. With such overwhelming evidence countering the rationale for the governor’s proposal, it would be difficult to characterize the governor’s flip-flop as anything but reactionary.
I cannot help but think of some of the clients that I represented as a public defender before bail reform measures were in place. Like my 16-year-old client charged with assault after defending his mom against her abuser. Or my queer client jailed for one week after being accused of damaging a foster parent’s clothing. Or my client who was charged with criminal trespass after sleeping in an abandoned lot because they feared the shelter system. In each of these cases judges reviewed my clients’ prior arrest records, the number of times that they failed to appear in court, and their current criminal allegations to determine whether or not to set bail. This practice has not changed—despite misinformation from bail reform opponents that claim otherwise. Judges continue to use their discretion to make bail determinations.
Hochul’s plan specifically targets individuals like my former clients—young, poor, and homeless folks who are subject to repeat encounters with law enforcement simply because of where they live. Her policy would encourage judges to increase bail amounts and to set bail more often, and discourage non-punitive alternatives that could actually benefit individuals most in need. As money is wasted on law enforcement initiatives designed to further criminalize disenfranchised groups, resources for the state’s poorest communities, including mental health, harm reduction, youth programs, shelters, and pandemic relief funds for excluded workers, are rapidly depleting under Hochul.
New Yorkers deserve a real solution to issues of safety. Unfortunately, Hochul’s plan falls egregiously short in this area. The disruption, trauma, and pressures caused by pretrial detention cannot be understated. The likely consequences of Hochul’s plan—job loss, family separation, lack of medical and mental health care and drug treatment, and more school absences—would destabilize families and communities and, ultimately, exacerbate the problems she aims to address. Indeed, an exhaustive report by Arnold Ventures, a nonpartisan philanthropy, released just last week concludes that “holding a person in jail for any amount of time before trial may undermine public safety.”
For communities who were led to believe that Hochul supported efforts to reduce jail rates, the honeymoon is over. In just a few short months, Hochul has helped return the state to an era that devalues the lives of vulnerable New Yorkers in the name of politics. It is now up to the New York State Legislature to hold steadfast against Hochul and her “tough-on-crime” cronies, rejecting the governor’s proposal outright and working with communities to address violence holistically.
Carl Hamad-Lipscombe is the executive director of Envision Freedom Fund.