The Editorial Board: Scapegoating bail reform for political purposes ignores the facts | Opinion
Opportunism is everything in politics. Too bad it is not always accompanied by factual arguments.
The instinctive claims by many that New York State’s bail reform laws are leading to an increase in violent crime are good examples of this. After the reforms, which ban cash bail for most non-violent crimes, became law in 2019, allegations quickly emerged that they forced judges to release dangerous offenders.
However, not just one, but several subsequent studies—by the Albany Times-Union, the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, and The Buffalo News, among others—indicate that there is no evidence that bail reform is linked to such increases.
As we know, however, politicians don’t always let the facts get in their way. Last Thursday’s attack on Rep. Lee Zeldin, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Republican challenger in the November election, provided a high-profile opportunity to renew demands for tougher bail laws. Luckily, Zeldin and his aides stopped an attacker — who jumped onto the stage while the congressman was speaking — from doing any harm, but the repercussions in terms of an increased attack on bail reform legislation don’t. will not be suppressed so easily.
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Zeldin has made tougher bail laws one of his top campaign issues, and on Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, joined him to ask for feedback. Ort also demanded a special legislative session on the bail and gun violence law.
Those who attack bail reform laws are right to deplore violent crime, but any efforts to reduce these crimes and their root causes must be evidence-based or they won’t do any damage. And there is no evidence that bail reform has led to more violent crime.
Those who falsely stigmatize bail reform also ignore the issues for which these laws were passed. Many accused of nonviolent offenses were jailed because they could not post bail and were punished before they could be tried or sentenced. Their only crime, so far, was to be poor.
Incarceration has profoundly disruptive effects on the lives of those imprisoned and is a major driver of economic inequality. Prisons also strain the financial resources of the municipalities that manage them. Bail reform was enacted to help address these real problems.
Unfortunately, the backlash against the sensible and humane treatment of people accused of petty crimes began almost immediately. It’s just too easy to blame the new legislation for any spike in violent crime, including high-profile incidents. This is despite the fact that higher spikes in violent crime have occurred in the United States, primarily in states that have much tougher bail laws. This despite the lack of evidence of any link.
The cynical use of bail reform as a scapegoat for violent crime only leads us away from data-driven policies that could actually make New York safer.