Bail “reform” has triggered a massive wave of revulsion across New York, as judges are forced to return serious offenders to the streets within hours of arrest, only to see them commit new crimes within days. Public anger threatens to split Democratic lawmakers, many of whom may face significant ballot challenges in November.
The cases are legion. Jordan Randolph, for example, was busted on New Year’s Day for harassment and tampering with an ignition-lock device. Less than two weeks after he was released, he drove drunk and killed Jonathan Flores-Maldonado — and was immediately released again.
(It eventually turned out Randolph could have been required to post bail or sit in jail, because he was already on probation — but the new law’s complexities confused both systems.)
“We are getting crushed,” said one senior staffer for a Democratic state senator based outside of New York City. “People are furious. We are getting call after call, and it is the same thing with all the other offices. … We’re getting clobbered.”
But not every senator is worried about the backlash. Dems hold 40 out of 63 seats, and 25 of those represent the Big Apple, where the loudest public voices scream for bail reform. Very few of these officials have to worry about November, because their deep-blue districts haven’t elected a Republican in decades. Their only concern is a primary challenge from the left, which they can avoid by parroting the line that last year’s reforms promote justice.
Referring to the case of Kalief Browder — a convicted car thief who was arrested for the strongarm robbery of a Mexican immigrant — state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins defended bail reform on NY1: “It’s not OK that because he was accused of stealing a backpack but didn’t have the resources to get out of jail, that he would languish there for three years. That is the epitome of a broken system.”
But Browder was able to raise his initial bail almost immediately. Bail was rejected when it turned out that he was already on probation for stealing and crashing a bakery truck. And he was then kept in jail for three years not because of the state’s laws on pretrial detention, but because the Bronx court system violated his right to a speedy trial.
Stewart-Cousins and other downstate electeds are even considering expanding the scope of the reforms. Sen. Michael Gianaris, the prime mover of the original legislation, speaks of pretrial detention as “incarceration without a conviction,” echoing radicals who believe holding suspects in advance of trial is a violation of due process.
But release on recognizance, house arrest, electronic monitoring, bail or remand are all well-established practices based on a finding of probable cause by a judge, who reviews preliminary evidence of culpability as part of arraignment.
Areas outside New York City generally tilt more to the center, especially on crime and public safety. And most Democratic senators from these districts came to office only in the last cycle or two. These electeds are more sensitive to the howls of outrage they are hearing from their constituents.
“City Dems are in a bubble,” says the senior staffer. “They say we can win on the talking points, and they have the muscle. They forced the reforms through in the budget, so nobody had the chance to vote against them.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat elected in 2017, voices the hesitancy that suburban and upstate Democrats have about bail reforms. She’s calling for “common-sense” amendments that would allow judges to determine if offenders seem likely to cause harm to the public before releasing them.
But Candice Giove, a GOP Senate spokesperson, says that the Democrats “not only voted for these dangerous criminal-justice reforms, but they knew exactly what would come out of them … . They are pitching small changes to a significant failure that they could have prevented in the first place.”
Even local officials, who had nothing to do with the state reforms, are feeling the heat. A field organizer for a City Council member running for Queens borough president reports, “All the canvassers are getting asked, ‘Where does he stand on bail reform?’ It’s a barrage of questions about a state issue, but people say they won’t sign the ballot petition if he supported bail reform.”
Radical Democratic legislators can continue to praise themselves for putting drunk drivers, bank robbers and violent anti-Semites back on the streets hours after the criminals have victimized New Yorkers. But the people of the state are the ones who suffer the consequences, and they will remember who created this situation when November rolls around.
This piece originally appeared at New York Post
Seth Barron is associate editor of City Journal.
Photo by sakhorn38/iStock