Story at a glance
- New York City rolled back a law ending cash bail on nearly all misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
- Since then, the city’s pretrial jail population has grown by nearly 16 percent, according to a local news outlet.
- Prisons and detention centers have become major hotspots of coronavirus outbreaks, especially in the U.S.'s former epicenter of the pandemic.
New York City’s pretrial jail population has increased by nearly 16 percent since the state rolled back a bail reform measure in July, reported the Queens Daily Eagle, which tracked the population between July 2 and Oct. 10 through Department of Correction reports.
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Bail reform rollbacks continue to highlight the hypocrisy of money bail. Given there is no research that supports the use of money bond as an effective method of preventing flight from prosecution, and given the NY laws do not permit courts to consider dangerousness, what is the money bail for? In all the things I’ve seen DAs and cops say, it’s about trying to prevent folks from getting out of jail by setting money bonds they hope a person won’t make. That’s not constitutional," said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Executive Partner at the Pretrial Justice Institute, in an email.
The rollbacks took effect in July, six months after the original law eliminated bail for nearly all misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and made about 25 specific nonviolent felonies eligible for bail once again, according to the Eagle. The amendment makes an exception for the presumption of release when there is a "risk of flight to avoid prosecution" and adds additional options for non-monetary conditions, including pretrial supervision and travel restrictions.
In May, a study by the Center for Court Innovation predicted the 16 percent increase as a result of the amendment to the reform bill, which initially reduced the city's pretrial jail population by 40 percent. Still, despite the predicted 16 percent increase in the population, the report found that about 84 percent of New York City’s criminal cases would still not be subject to bail or detention while awaiting trial. The study also noted a potential benefit of the amendment, which also adds data tracking and public reporting requirements.
"The ability of reformers to highlight patterns in the data may push court players in the direction of less bail and detention and less restrictive release conditions, especially in regard to decisions resulting in racial disparities," wrote the authors.
The city has struggled to keep its prison population safe during the coronavirus pandemic, despite releasing 900 nonviolent, elderly inmates in March and 19 juvenile delinquents held in detention centers while their cases were pending trial. To date, more than 900 detainees and 1,000 staff members at New York prisons have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with 27 total deaths including parolees.
“It is plainly unconscionable that Albany capitulated to racist fear-mongering and subjected more people to pretrial detention during the COVID-19 pandemic — a betrayal that is downright cruel and dangerous,” Legal Aid said in a joint statement with other borough-based public defender organizations. “One hundred days after the implementation of these bail rollbacks, our fears have been realized as more and more people are in jail as the city braces for a resurgence of COVID-19.”
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