Three Brooklyn senators hesitate on bail reform bill. They rep 1,400 people who were stuck in city jails.
Three Southern Brooklyn state senators have yet to co-sponsor a bill that would drastically reform the cash bail system, even though they represent nearly 1,400 constituents who were stuck in city jails on misdemeanor charges and unable to afford bail.
State Sens. Andrew Gounardes, Roxanne Persaud and Diane Savino are the only three mainstream Democratic senators from Brooklyn who have not yet co-sponsored the Bail Elimination Act. The legislation provides judges with three alternatives to cash bail: release on recognizance for misdemeanors, pretrial monitoring and remanding defendants to city jails for the most serious offenses. State Sen. Simcha Felder, who does not caucus with either party, is the only other Brooklyn senator who has not co-sponsored the bill.
Combined, the three senators represent at least 1,392 constituents who would immediately benefit from the legislation because they were charged with a misdemeanor and could not afford bail of $2,000 or less since 2017, according to client data compiled by The Legal Aid Society and shared exclusively with the Eagle. The purpose of bail is to establish a financial incentive for defendants to return to court.
At least 874 people from Savino’s District 23 were arrested for misdemeanors and had bail set at $2,000 or less since 2017, according to Legal Aid’s data. Her district includes Coney Island, Brighton Beach and the northern neighborhoods of Staten Island.
Persaud’s District 19 accounted for 406 people whose misdemeanor bail of $2,000 or less proved unaffordable, while Gounardes’ District 22 accounted for 112, according to the Legal Aid data. District 19 covers East New York, Canarsie and Sheepshead Bay, and District 22 includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Marine Park.
Legal Aid mapped only the addresses of their own clients from the three senate districts. A spokesperson said the organization represents about half of the indigent defendants arrested and jailed for misdemeanors in Brooklyn, meaning that defendants represented by other public defender organizations are not included in their data set.
Brooklyn Community Bail Fund Executive Director Peter Goldberg said the defendants were detained at Rikers and other city jails because they could not afford their bail amount. About 95 percent of those bailed out by his organization have appeared for all of their court dates, even though they did not put up their own cash, he said.
“The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund has paid bail for thousands of presumptively innocent New Yorkers in Brooklyn and Staten Island, people who would otherwise be jailed because they cannot afford a few hundred dollars to purchase their freedom,” Goldberg said. “New York state senators and assemblymembers have the opportunity to enact real bail reform to eliminate money bail and lessen the harm that, for decades, has been inflicted on their own constituents who have borne the brunt of the abuses of the bail system.”
A spokesperson for Gounardes said the senator has not yet read the Bail Elimination Act because he has been concentrating on the budget and is unwilling to “blindly” co-sponsor the bill. The spokesperson said Gounardes plans to read the bill and speak with State Sen. Michael Gianaris, its original sponsor.
“The senator is in favor of bail reform, but there’s lots of criminal justice legislation out there right now and many pieces of legislation have bail reform in them,” the spokesperson told the Eagle. “It’s not going to be something he makes a decision on until he reads all the legislation as well as the final bill.”
A spokesperson for Persaud said the senator fully supports bail reform, but “wanted to work out all the details” before signing on to the bill, but did not explain what those details were.
Savino’s office did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Marie Ndiaye, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid’s Decarceration Project, said she hoped the dataset would help lawmakers understand the impact of cash bail on their low-income constituents.
“In addition to facing indefinite pre-trial detention on Rikers Island, many of these clients may have lost their job, housing, or access to vital services without ever being convicted of a crime,” Ndiaye said.
Additional reporting by Paul Stremple.
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