Hochul’s purported bail reform memo draws praise and criticism

It was reported Thursday that Gov. Kathy Hochul is planning to roll back certain bail reforms and parts of the “Raise the Age” statute. Although the governer wouldn’t confirm or deny this.
Photo By Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul wouldn’t confirm or deny Thursday two leaked stories – one in the New York Post and the other in Newsday – that she issued a 10-point memo that would modify and roll back several pieces of a bail reform package the state legislature passed in 2019. 

According to these press accounts, Hochul is planning on negotiating to have it included in this year’s state budget, which must be passed by an April 1 deadline.

However, Hochul’s Press Secretary Hazel Crampton-Hays refused to put forth the said memo and wouldn’t indicate to PoliticsNY which way the governor is leaning.

“As the governor has said consistently since becoming governor, she does not negotiate in public,” Crampton-Hays said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to deliver a budget that serves New Yorkers.” 

If the governor is indeed going to release this plan, she’ll likely have a fight ahead of her with state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stuart Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, both of whom have stood staunchly behind the bail reforms passed in 2019.

State Senate Majority Whip Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) directly refuted the Hochul Administration assertion and said Hochul is absolutely negotiating in the press and not with the state legislature.

“They [Hochul Administration] have decided that they want to negotiate this through the press more than they want to negotiate it through the legislature,” Parker said. “It’s a general position of the state legislature, particularly the State Senate, that the problems that we’re seeing in our communities for crime and the problems we’re seeing around mental health is not caused by bail reform. And so they’re trying to force a square peg into a round hole with a solution that not only is ill conceived but wouldn’t work anyhow.”

Mayor Eric Adams, who’s been calling on the governor to make changes to the bail reforms and “Raise the Age since taking office in January, quickly applauded news of her forthcoming plan.

“The governor’s proposal includes significant steps, which I have advocated for, that would make New York safer, while not undoing important reforms,” the mayor said in a statement. “It is a big step forward that these proposals are being discussed at the highest level in Albany, and I am grateful to the governor and the legislature for their partnership.”

Adams has repeatedly blamed the city’s current crime wave – the worst one in decades – on the bail reforms. That’s why he’s been proposing the imposition of a “dangerousness standard” that would make it easier for judges to hold people pre-trial if they’re deemed too dangerous to release. And tweaking “Raise the Age”  – a 2017 statute that changed the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 – to allow 16 and 17 year-olds caught with serious felonies to be tried in adult court.

As reported, the governor’s plan would make both of these changes. It would increase the number of bail eligible crimes to include certain gun, hate crime and subway offenses that currently only warrant a desk appearance. It would also allow judges to set bail based on factors like people’s criminal histories, their past use or possession of a firearm or if they’re a repeat offender.

Additionally, the plan would make it easier to prosecute gun trafficking by lowering the threshold of the amount of guns one has to possess to be charged – bringing it down from 10 to three guns for a class B felony and five to two guns for a class C. 

And it also proposes changes to “Raise the Age.”

Criminal justice advocates – including The Legal Aid Society and the Raise the Age Coalition – quickly came out in defense of the long-fought reforms Hochul is looking to roll back. 

“The Legislature must reject outright any bail rollback proposal, including a ‘dangerousness’ provision, from Governor Hochul that will only increase jail populations, disproportionately impacting Black and brown New Yorkers,” said Marie Ndiaye, Supervising Attorney of the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. 

But U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Long Island) – one of Hochul’s primary competitors – who has made public safety a central tenet of his campaign, said Hochul was too slow to change her stance on bail reform and her plan doesn’t crack down on the issue hard enough.

“Kathy Hochul continues to react, not lead,” Suozzi said. “After so much violence and death she finally woke up to the crime crisis that has been plaguing New York since she took office. Her crime plan doesn’t go nearly far enough and what is in there is copied and pasted from my 15-point crime plan that I released months ago. Hochul’s failed leadership is too little too late for the victims of violent crime.”

One state Democratic political operative said Hochul’s initiatives to tweak bail reform and “Raise the Age” laws is a strategic move to appeal to centrist voters in her run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

“This is happening because many of the legislators in Albany are being challenged from the left where the races are being decided in the public’s mind around bail reform as the crime rate has been widespread,” the operative said. 

“Unfortunately, the increase in crime has come on the back end of bail reform and so the Republican Party has done a very good job at pointing the finger at bail reform for the reason the crime rate has gone up when it’s just not the reality. That’s not true. But they’ve done a very good job of painting that picture in the minds of voters,” the operative added.