As lawmakers from Greene and other counties join with police officers to take a stand against bail reforms coming Jan. 1, this may be a good time to pump the brakes and look at the bigger picture.
The Greene County Police Officers Association recently released a letter opposed to the changes and the Greene County Legislature passed a resolution Nov. 20 urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to “hit the pause button on bail reform and get-out-of-jail-free cards” for criminals. The police union consisting of active and retired law enforcement officers in Greene County released a statement regarding its position on the reforms.
Here’s a sample of the position from the police union: “Make no mistake, these criminal justice reforms are a clear and frightening attack on our entire criminal justice system.”
Now, before we run around shouting it’s the end of the world as we know it, let’s walk this back.
First, bail is to secure someone’s return to court. Guilt or innocence is up to a judge or a jury to decide.
Second, in place of bail, a defendant can be released with a variety of other conditions such as travel restrictions, being prohibited from owning firearms, being required to have frequent check-ins with probation and wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet, which can limit the distance the defendant travels and includes a curfew.
Third, a judge can issue orders of protection for alleged victims when a defendant is released. This is common in the pre-bail reform system.
Other states are not worried about bail reform.
New Jersey, which enacted laws similar to New York, has experienced no significant increase in the number of defendants failing to appear in court, according to a report by The Washington Post News Service.
New Jersey has seen a 44% decrease in the pretrial jail population and at the same time, no meaningful increases in failures to appear in court or new offenses committed by people who are released pretrial, according to the Post story.
At the outset, bail reform will burden public employees who under this law are required to send multiple court appearance reminders to these offenders, as well as police officers and district attorneys who must commit resources to tracking and pursuing those who evade prosecution. But this can be worked out as time goes on.
We don’t need to “hit the pause button” on bail reform, as its critics say. What’s needed here is patience to see how the laws play out and then ask lawmakers to iron out the wrinkles as they appear. But we must also demand that justice is meted out as common sense and the laws make clear. This cannot and should not be ignored.