Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed bail reform legislation into law in 2019, but did he leave enough time for police, judges and district attorneys to acclimate themselves?
Bail reform foes say the new law puts the public at risk. They say it doesn’t allow consideration of defendants’ background or if they are a threat to the community. They say the public safety concern is too great. They say judges, district attorneys and police were circumvented in the law’s development. And they say it puts politics ahead of safety.
Supporters claim otherwise. They say in place of bail, a defendant can be released with a variety of conditions such as travel restrictions, being prohibited from owning firearms, being required to have frequent check-ins with probation and wearing ankle monitoring bracelets. They say bail has become a matter of affordability, that justice is not supposed to be about who has money in their pockets to buy freedom. Rich people go free; the poor go to jail.
So it’s wise of the governor to announce, just six days after the reform law went into effect, that he wants to make some adjustments. Changing the bail system, which the governor set out to do, is a complex task carrying with it a number of implications.
“There’s no doubt this is still a work in progress and there are other changes that have to be made,” Cuomo said Tuesday. “It’s literally three or four days, the Legislature comes back next year and we’re going to work on it because there are consequences that we have to adjust for.”
One of those consequences is the law’s polarizing effect. Conservative law-and-order types see bloodthirsty killers set loose to terrorize our streets. That is an exaggeration, the kind of alarmist thinking that more liberal supporters of the law call scare tactics. The supporters point to several other states with similar bail laws. Those states have no crimes resulting from releasing defendants, supporters say.
No law is perfect, least of all one with so many complexities. Given more of a chance, the new bail reform laws will work themselves out as judges, district attorneys and police solve the ambiguities. Meanwhile, some adjustments would be preferable to the fear-mongering comments on social media and the chaos bail reform is producing.