New UAlbany research debunks claims of NY bail reform law causing crime surge
The highly debated bail reform law, which essentially abolished cash bail for most misdemeanors and some non-violent felonies, has been a source of contention since its inception in 2019. Critics feared that such leniency would invite crime, while supporters argued that a cash bail system unjustly penalized economically disadvantaged defendants.
However, in a groundbreaking study spearheaded by PhD recipient Sishi Wu and distinguished School of Criminal Justice (SCJ) at the University at Albany Professor David McDowall, these fears have been proven unfounded.
Their study, “Does Bail Reform Increase Crime in New York State: Evidence from Interrupted Time-Series and Synthetic Control Methods,” conducted an in-depth examination of New York’s crime rates following the implementation of the bail reform law.
It compared monthly crime counts for seven offenses: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft in New York with those from other states. This innovative research is the first to disentangle the effects of bail reform from other significant events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interestingly, while the study found that murder, larceny, and auto theft rates did indeed rise after bail reform, the reform itself wasn’t the culprit. Instead, the authors suggest, the uptick in crime could be attributed to the destabilizing effects of the pandemic.
“There’s a critical difference between correlation and causation,” stated Wu, “Our research shows that while crime rates did rise after the implementation of bail reform, these two events are not causally linked. Rather, external factors, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic, seem to have played a significant role.”
Indeed, despite a nearly 47% increase in murders from 570 in 2019 to 836 in 2020, and a 1% increase in overall violent crime, when compared to a control group of states similarly affected by the pandemic but without bail reform, the crime increase in New York was not statistically significant.
Furthermore, jail populations declined between 2019 and 2020 — a key objective of bail reform.
“Our findings help to dispel a pervasive myth that bail reform equates to higher crime rates,” said McDowall. “With these results, legislators and stakeholders can more accurately address public safety concerns as the implementation of bail reform continues.”
While the study provides compelling evidence, the researchers stressed the need for further investigation into the long-term effects of bail reform on crime rates. However, for now, it seems that New York’s bail reform law stands innocent of inciting crime increases.
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