In 2019, Democrats in Albany passed landmark bail reform legislation, ending cash bail for many low-level crimes and misdemeanors.
Crime rates began to rise. And under pressure, the legislature tweaked the law in 2020, adding additional crimes that are bail eligible.
But unlike most states that have passed bail reform in recent years, including neighboring New Jersey, New York does not allow judges to use their discretion for what is known as a “dangerousness standard” to determine if someone should be released after being arraigned.
Mayor-elect Eric Adams would like judges to have that authority.
“I do want them to weigh that in,” Adams said last week. “We noticed a number of cases where people have been extremely dangerous. They’ve been out the next day. And it is really creating a public safety issue.”
In part, Adams was elected on a law and order platform. And his clout in Albany is likely to be greatest in early 2022 when lawmakers return for the legislative session.
But Albany legislators consider bail reform one of their signature criminal justice reforms, and they are not eager to revisit it. That’s particularly true for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has said previously that judges could end up discriminating against people of color when deciding who should remain locked up.
When we caught up with Heastie last week in Puerto Rico, He did not seem eager to revise the current law.
“A lot of people still don’t understand what the law does. These things try to be used as campaign fodder, but I think a lot of people are not quite sure or understood, but it was used in campaigns,” Heastie said.
Heastie added that he hadn’t spoken to Adams about it recently.
Critics of the law say Democratic losses in last week’s elections in places like Long Island indicate that there is at least a perception that the bail reform has made communities less safe.
“Public safety is the most important responsibility of public leaders,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “From the mayor to the governor of the state of New York. I am very open to having the conversations that are being talked about with the legislative leadership. But I’m not going to negotiate and have these conversations in this forum, because I want to make sure we get it right.”
Adams will likely have several priorities when he is sworn in on January 1, so he will need to decide if the dangerousness standard is something he’s willing to extend his political capital on. It will likely be a fight with fellow Democrats if he wants them to make the change.