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Advocates Push for More Comprehensive Bail Reform

Sixty-three percent of people in New York jails have not been convicted of a crime but cannot afford bail. (Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons)
Sixty-three percent of people in New York jails have not been convicted of a crime but cannot afford bail. (Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons)
March 22, 2018

ALBANY, N. Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to reform the system of cash bail in New York, but some groups say his reforms don't go far enough.

Sixty-three percent of people held in jails around New York State have not been convicted of a crime, but can't afford the bail to secure their release. In Senate Bill 7505/Assembly Bill 9505, the governor proposes ending the current cash-bail system for people charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies.

But critics of the proposal say his plan would force people charged with a crime to pay for electronic monitoring and other services while awaiting trial. Kesi Foster, an organizer for Make the Road New York, calls that approach "fundamentally flawed."

"We are talking about people who have not gone to trial yet and should be considered and presumed innocent," said Foster. "So, there's still a punishment that's involved in the governor's proposal."

Supporters of electronic monitoring note that nationally, one-third of defendants released while awaiting trial don't comply with discharge requirements, including court appearances.

But Foster contends the governor's plan would allow private companies to continue profiting off a system that disproportionately affects people who are poor, and communities of color. He added that the governor also wants to increase the number of misdemeanors for which there would be no pretrial release.

"In that way, it's actually taking a huge step backwards by expanding the number of people that can be held without the possibility of being released before they even go to trial," Foster said.

While the governor's proposal would reduce the number of people in pretrial detention, Foster believes that by including required payment for monitoring services, and expanding offenses with no pretrial release, the reforms would fall short of the desired goal.

"To ensure that New York is holding significantly less people in cages before trial, and that we're eliminating the practice of wealth-based detention," he said.

The governor's bill is included in the state budget proposals, which are due to be in place by April 1.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY