Bail reform is a hot topic between defense attorneys and prosecutors at KCCBA meeting
Bail reform has become a hot topic nationally, especially since California outlawed cash bail a year ago, and the Kings County Criminal Bar Association became ground zero for that discussion when it hosted a continuing legal education program titled, “Bail Reform: Bail Alternatives and the New Felony Arraignment Part” at its monthly meeting on Remsen Street last Thursday.
The panel for the discussion consisted of Krystal Rodriguez, the associate director of jail reform for the Center for Court Innovation; Brian Crow, the deputy director of the Justice Division of the NYC Council; and Assistant District Attorney Janet Gleeson, bureau chief of the Orange Zone Trial Bureau at the Brooklyn DA’s Office.
“The KCCBA supports all attempts to make the system of bail more just and fair,” said President Christopher Wright. “The City Council and state legislature are both pursuing meaningful bail reform and we eagerly await their proposals. Brooklyn has already made important steps in reducing its contribution to the city’s jail population.”
The program opened with Rodriguez discussing the new felony arraignment part, a pilot program in the Brooklyn Supreme Court that attempts to steer defendants towards the Supervised Release Program. The program, which is overseen by Hon. John Ingram, began on Feb. 11 and will run into May.
“What the project set out to do was to employ some jail reduction strategies within felony Supreme Court,” Rodriguez said, telling her listeners that the “two overarching strategies that we hope are tested in this court part” involve “looking at case processing,” in which the focus is “on pretrial detention… looking at the amount of time that people spend in jail prior to conviction or any showing of evidence,” as well as “finding alternatives to bail.”
When Crow took over the discussion, he made clear that he doesn’t feel as if bail is necessary if the goal is getting people back to court, which is the legal purpose of the bail statute in New York State.
“Does bail do a good job ensuring people coming to court? The answer is not really,” Crow said. “The difference between cash and bond is not existent.
“Getting rid of all forms of monetary bail and getting towards a system of remand or some kind of conditional release is not far-fetched,” Crow continued. “It’s already happening in California. There has been a significant push-back by the bail bonds association. They’re very well-funded and they very rightfully fear that their whole operation is no longer going to be legal and they’re fighting back.”
Gleeson brought people back down to reality because while she admitted that bail reform is a noble goal, she pointed to real-life situations where she felt that bail was necessary for public safety.
“Our office has been on the forefront of bail reform, especially on misdemeanors and we’re moving that way on non-violent felonies, but most people are not getting put in on bail on a misdemeanor, or even a low-level felony…unless they’ve been through the system multiple times and have warrant history.”
While Crow suggested that New York City could achieve its goal to bring the pretrial jail population down through bail reform without a rise in crime rates, again Gleeson cast doubt.
“Supervised release is an excellent program for most people,” Gleeson said. “I think that, from a prosecutor standpoint, I am a little concerned, but change is always a concern. I don’t think the crime numbers will stay the way they are. The numbers are low and I don’t know how much more they can bottom out. There is a concern, especially when you’re letting more and more people out.”
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