Bail Reform in NYC: Stop the Misinformation

by Kelvin Richards

NYC’s Upsurge in Violence

Bail reform is good for NYC but what is hurting the narrative is the misinformation about it.

I understand after the recent death of George Floyd and the changes in 50-A, chokehold, and diaphragm laws with the NYPD, we have seen an uptick in violent crimes. I will assert that those upticks have generally been because the NYPD have reduced the amount of proactive and preemptive policing that would have normally lead to an arrest of people with guns. This slowdown has also significantly emboldened shooters around the city.

What We Can Do About It

To reduce the violence, we need to stop demonizing the police. The police are not the enemy here. The problem is accountability.

Because people feel that police officers who abuse their discretion are not held accountable for their actions, they do not trust the system. This erosion of trust makes it harder for effective community policing, which has nothing to do with bail reform.

Separating Fact From Fiction on Bail Reform

I’ll divorce the facts from fiction when it comes to bail reform. Let’s look at the pre-bail reform system and the post-bail reform system:

Before bail reform

People who had bail set on them were usually forced to plea guilty to lesser
included offenses because it increased their chances of going home sooner.

For example, here on Staten Island, most misdemeanor cases go to trial in or around six to eight months after arraignments (first day in court after an arrest). For felonies, it could take anywhere from a year to two before you actually have your day in court in front of a jury of your peers.

Most people then weigh losing their jobs, relationships, housing, school, etc while waiting for months for a trial against pleading guilty to something that will get them home in weeks.

The assistant district attorneys know people will choose to go home instead of sitting in jail. They make very sweet offers on cases they know they cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt for a guilty plea on a lesser included charge. Clients will almost always jump on a plea deal knowing very well they could win their case if they sat in jail for months. Sometimes winning have a different meaning if your back is against the wall. Maybe winning to you is going home to see the birth of your child, or keeping your apartment or job.

Accepting these pleas increases the clients’ criminal record/history, spinning the wheels of the revolving doors of the criminal justice system. When they get arrested again, they already have a record and the process starts again.

After bail reform

With the new bail reform in NYC, people charged with non-qualifying offenses do not have to fall into this trap. They get to go home and continue their lives while their case goes through the system. Some graduate high school or college or complete drug programs. Some get married and start a family. The key phrase here is non-qualifying offenses.

People against bail reform spread fake news and say if you commit any crime in NYC, you get to go home because of bail reform. This is not true. All qualifying offenses have bail set on them and some cases get remanded (held without bail).

Qualifying offenses are

  • sex cases
  • gun cases
  • shooting cases
  • violating an order of protection cases
  • robbery cases,
  • tampering with a witness, etc.

Most violent cases are bail eligible but we don’t hear about them. All we hear about is a “get out of jail free” card. The reason for this is simple: fear mongering and blaming the recent shootings on something that has nothing to do with it.

What Bail Reform Misinformation Does

The worst part about this misinformation is it adds up and confuses bad people with guns. They think that they can get out of jail free. In the end, the police falling back emboldens these people, bail reform misinformation further encourages them, and the saga continues.

Let us be responsible and come together to work towards a safer and better NYC.
Remember to keep an open mind and separate the facts from the fiction.

Kelvin Richards

Kelvin Richards has been a public defender with the Legal Aid Society in Staten Island since 2012. Kelvin’s motivation to improve the lives of others started when he was ten years old on a refugee camp in Ghana, when he and his family fled the Liberian Civil War. The horrors of the civil war and the passionate work of the United Nations volunteers intrigued him. He is currently running for the City Council seat of Staten Island’s 49th District.

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