In his recent State of the State, Governor Cuomo endorsed what many of us have long fought for; sensible criminal justice reform efforts to end the practice of mass incarceration of people of color. By supporting the end of cash bail for misdemeanors, discovery reform, and efforts to speed up trials, the governor has brought himself in line with the prevailing feeling of the Democratic caucus. Now it is our job to hold him to those promises.
One of the main reasons there are so many men, particularly African-American and Hispanic men, in jail is that bail is often set prohibitively high. Bail is an excellent tool to ensure compliance with court dates and keep dangerous criminals off the street before their trial, but too often it forces people to languish in prison since their family is unable to come up with the money to return to their family. Some people have the option of going to a bail bondsman, but fees can be so onerous that many families and individuals have no choice but to remain in jail until their trial, which does not always happen quickly.
Eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies would greatly reduce our jail population, and go a long way towards Mayor de Blasio’s goal of closing Riker’s Island. And this move will not put our communities at a great risk. Of all people released pre-trial, less than 2% are re-arrested for a violent felony. By allowing people to remain in their communities as much as possible, we can keep family bonds strong, potentially reducing rates of recidivism and preventing future crimes.
Living with family before a trial is not the only way we can make our criminal justice system fairer. As with Raise the Age, New York falls behind the rest of the country when it comes to discovery reform. New York has some of the most restrictive criminal discovery laws, which means that people accused of a crime will not be able to see the evidence that will be used against them. This makes trials one-sided, and arrests hard to fight.
That’s why I signed on to A. 8820, which would end the practice of cash bail in New York, a move I was glad to hear the governor endorse in his State of the State. This bill, along with many other criminal justice reform bills I have been proud to sponsor in my time in the assembly, will begin the slow process of making our justice system work for everyone.
Reforming discovery laws will not only bring New York in line with the rest of the country, they will go a long way towards ending the mass incarceration of black and Latino men. A. 7292, which modernizes discovery procedure and improves access to information was developed with input from prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and more of the sharpest legal minds in our state.
I will remain to be a strong advocate and sponsor of this bill, in an effort to take the necessary steps towards reforming our criminal justice system. In partnership with bail reform, these two bills can move us towards the important goal of lessening our prison population and eventually ending mass incarceration.
Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley represents Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights as part of the 57th Assembly district. He graduated with honors from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminology and minors in African Studies and American History. He received his law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C.