As stories pile up of repeat offenders released hours after arrest, Americans might be wondering what possessed Empire State leaders to adopt such a misguided policy. The intentions were noble. But the outcomes were awful — because Albany didn’t take the smarter approach to reform illustrated by states like New Jersey.
New York lawmakers led by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wanted to address the inequities inherent in a pretrial justice system that would set free a dangerous-but-wealthy defendant while detaining a poor-but-harmless one. They also wanted to minimize unjustifiably lengthy pretrial detentions. But they pursued these ends in flawed fashion.
Let’s start with the first problem bail reform was meant to address: wealth inequities.
While the old system’s reliance on cash bail surely produced some unfair outcomes, readers should understand that prolonged detentions resulting from a defendant’s inability to pay bail were relatively rare even in the pre-reform period. A month after Albany passed bail reform, New York City released a report showing that just over 10 percent of annual arrests resulted in a bail-related jail admission. Of those defendants, 70 percent were released within seven days.
A smarter way to minimize the outcomes reformers were worried about was to reorient pretrial-release decisions around the danger a given defendant posed to the public — something judges could determine using their own discretion, with the help of algorithmic risk assessment. This is the model other jurisdictions, like New Jersey, have followed.
Rafael A. Mangual is a fellow and deputy director for legal policy at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. This piece was adapted from City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.
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