Brooklyn Electeds Agree Bail Reforms Needed But Divided on Approach

Bail Reform Act by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

The state legislature earlier this year voted to eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses.

Once enacted in January 2020, most people charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent felony will be automatically released. The Bail Elimination Act of 2019 (S2101A) aims to help New Yorkers who are detained because they cannot afford bail. 

The purpose of bail is to guarantee the defendant’s return to court. Instead of bail, Mayor Bill de Blasio has suggested incentivizing NYC defendants to show up to court with perks, such as New York Mets tickets, movie passes, and gift cards.

Supporters of the legislation say the change could save New Yorkers millions of dollars and countless days of jail time. But law enforcement officials, such as newly-inducted Police Commissioner Shea Dermont and his predecessor James O’Neill have called the reforms “concerning”. They’re worried about having more criminals on the street. 

Bail reform is a controversial change that the legislature has up until now steered away from. However, the legislation technically received bipartisan support because it was rolled into the proposed budget in April, and some Republicans voted to pass the budget. But all 22 sponsors of the legislation are Democrats. 

State Senator Brian P. Kavanagh
Senator Velmanette Montgomery photographed by tracy collins
Senator Velmanette Montgomery
Julia Salazar
State Sen. Julia Salazar

Sens. Brian Kavanaugh (D-Brooklyn Waterfront), Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn Heights, Bed-Stuy, Red Hook), Zellnor Myrie (D-Crown Heights, Brownsville, Sunset Park), Kevin Parker (D-Prospect Park, East Flatbush) and Julia Salazar (D-Bushwick, Cypress Hills, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Brownsville) have all co-sponsored the bill. 

In his speech on the Senate floor in support of the reforms, Myrie compared the passage of criminal justice reforms in the budget to the NYS legislature’s abolition of slavery 200 years before. “Make no mistake, there is a direct line from slavery to our mass incarceration complex. And just as this legislative body was faced with the question of slavery, today we are faced with the question of liberty and justice,” Myrie said.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes
State Senator Andrew Gounardes
Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis

Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Gerritsen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park) also supports the bill, even though he is not a co-sponsor. A spokesperson for Gounardes said “Criminal justice reform is one of the vanishingly rare areas of national bipartisan consensus because it addresses expensive, dangerous and wrong policies that have failed to keep our communities safe for decades. That is why Senator Gounardes voted for it.” 

Elected officials representing South Brooklyn have been wary of the upcoming reforms. Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-South Brooklyn, Staten Island) said “Bail reform is a naïve and dangerous experiment that undercuts our criminal justice system and favors the criminal class over New York’s law-abiding citizens. After bail reform takes effect, 90% of those arrested will be returned to the streets hours later, without any bail required and nothing more than a date to appear in court. This includes individuals with extensive criminal records and those charged with criminally negligent homicide, drug dealing, stalking, strangulation, assault, and many more equally heinous acts.”

Malliotakis concluded. “Any person with an ounce of common sense will tell you that this is a recipe for lawlessness and violence on the streets of our city which we simply can’t allow.”

Max Rose
U.S. Rep. Max Rose
City Comptroller Scott Stringer
City Councilman Stephen Levin

U.S. Rep. Max Rose (D-South Brooklyn, Staten Island) joined six fellow New York State Congressmembers in calling on Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to make changes to the recently passed bail and discovery reform laws. 

 “We can and we must ensure our justice system is fair and maintains our public safety—but the fact is with the bail and discovery reforms Albany went too far, too fast,” Rose said. “That’s why I’m joining law enforcement and bipartisan colleagues from across the state in calling for quick action in Albany to ensure the safety of our communities—and especially the victims of these crimes—are not put in jeopardy.”

The bipartisan lawmakers wrote a letter to Cuomo, saying: “While we agree criminal justice reform has long been needed around the country, New York State’s new soft-on-crime bail laws, which will let dangerous criminals roam free, endanger their victims, and hamstring the authorities who want to hold them accountable, this is not the answer. Additionally, this new law will cripple local counties and municipalities that will be forced to pass along new, unfunded mandates required in the bill to local taxpayers.”

The city could save money by eliminating bail, according to a new analysis of Department of Correction (DOC) data released by city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office. According to this study, the annual cost of incarceration has ballooned to $337,524 per person per year – or $925 per day. The report found that over the past decade, the average daily jail population fell by 41% – but, violent infractions increased by 79%. This indicates that violent incidents have continued to rise disproportionately to the declining incarcerated population. 

In a Brooklyn delegation meeting, Councilman Stephen Levin (D- Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, Fulton Ferry, Greenpoint, Vinegar Hill, Williamsburg) explained that reforming the system requires releasing criminals. He said, “In order to reduce the size of the [jails], there needs to be less people detained. And how do we get to have less people detained? We reform the system. And that’s where we’re really happy about the state law changes this year of discovery reform, speedy trial reform, bail reform.”