Democrats signal opening for changes to New York bail reform
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Democrats, amid mounting political pressure, are opening the door to changes on New York’s bail reform law as the legislative session begins this week.
New York’s bail law, which went into effect at the beginning of the year, did away with money bail and pretrial detention for a wide majority of low-level cases and nonviolent felonies.
Law enforcement officials, prosecutors and Republicans have spent months raising red flags on the changes, but their criticism caught more attention in the last week as courts across the state have released people who would have remain behind bars under the old rules.
Bail changes, passed by a Democratic-controlled legislature last session, played a key role in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s criminal justice agenda.
While heading into session, some state Democrats are suggesting changes to the law or saying the reforms should be revisited.
Cuomo’s office said it supports adding hate crimes to a list of offenses for which a judge can set bail.
“The system’s reforms are no doubt a work in progress which we will be discussing this session,” said Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to Cuomo, in a statement.
Cuomo’s office defended the reforms as recently as November.
Reform critics argue the changes have jeopardized public safety. Further scrutiny of the bail reforms came after a string of violence that targeted Jews in the region.
Standing near Cuomo during a press conference, Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco called on lawmakers to review the bail law after a man stormed into a rabbi’s home and stabbed five people as they celebrated Hanukkah.
The suspect’s bail was set at $5 million.
John Flanagan, the Republican minority state Senate leader, denounced the criminal justice reforms and said Democrats failed to listen to prosecutors from both parties, along with law enforcement authorities.
State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins recently argued for the thrust of the bail reform, but said lawmakers should take a look at the law.
“We are as concerned about these hate crimes as everyone,” she said.
Reforms supporters argued Monday that the changes create a fairer criminal justice system for poor defendants.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris pointed to Harvey Weinstein as an example of how the system treats rich and poor defendants. The Hollywood mogul has been free in the lead-up to his sexual assault trial in New York on charges of rape and assault.
“He has been accused of horrible, horrible things,” Gianaris said. “And yet all the people who are clamoring and complaining about the bail reform, I have not heard a peep from them about how an accused rapist has been sitting in the community.”
“But suddenly when we’re trying to afford the same opportunities to the poor, it becomes a bigger problem,” he said.
Ryan Tarinelli is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit organization that supports local news coverage in a partnership with The Associated Press for New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.