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Bail reform advocates: ‘Statistics are proving us right’

September 21, 2022 Rob Abruzzese
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The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) issued a report on Wednesday and the numbers it showed are being cheered by bail-reform advocates.

“The data released today by DCJS confirms what we have seen in other data sets and directly disproves the talking points of opponents who have sought to score political points from intentionally spreading misinformation,” said Marvin Mayfield, director of organizing at the Center for Community Alternatives.

Critics of bail reform, which emphasized no cash bail, or bail alternatives in non-violent cases, to bring our local bail laws more in line with the rest of the country, have sounded the alarm that the reforms and made claims that the reforms created a revolving door for criminals who are likely to reoffend.

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The statistics released by the DCJS on Wednesday showed that in 2019, prior to bail reform, a total of 19 percent of the jail population were re-arrested, and in 2021 that number stood at 20 percent post reform. Among the arrested who received an ROR (release on recognizance), 18 percent were re-arrested in 2019, but just 16 percent were re-arrested in 2021.

In New York State, and under the system of innocent-until-proven-guilty, the system of bail is not meant to be a punishment for people. Instead, it is merely supposed to be a system that ensures people return to court. Advocates have long insisted that there are viable alternatives to cash-bail that ensures people return to court.

According to the date released by the DCJS on Wednesday, people are returning to court for their trials more often now than they were prior to reforms with 15 percent of the population failing to appear in 2019, and only nine percent failing to appear in 2021.

Bail reform is working,” Mayfield said. “More New Yorkers have had their constitutional rights protected, benefiting rather than undermining safety and wellbeing. Re-arrest rates, while a faulty measure, have remained the same pre- and post-bail reform and have decreased on firearm charges. Failure to appear rates have decreased remarkably in New York City, meaning more people are making all their court dates post-bail reform than they did pre-bail reform.

One of the biggest impacts bail-reform seems to have had is on the number of times bail is set under $500, and under $1,000, which advocates claimed to have disproportionately impacted poor people.

According to the DCJS, in 2019, six percent of arraignments ended with bail being set at $500 or less, and bail was set at $1,000 or less 15 percent of the time. In 2021, those numbers dropped to zero percent and two percent, respectively.

Bail reform was urgently needed to address the criminalization of poverty and it has done just that,” Mayfield said. “There has been a dramatic decrease in the number of people incarcerated on bail amounts under $500 or $1,000 and many fewer people charged with low-level misdemeanors are in jail pre-trial, particularly in upstate counties.”

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