NY Bail Reform: Mayor Adams' call for changes faces resistance

In his blueprint to end gun violence, Mayor Eric Adams is proposing changes to the state's bail reform law by adding in a provision that would allow judges to determine if a person is too dangerous to remain on the streets.

"New York is the only state in the country that does not allow a judge to detain a defendant who poses an immediate threat to the community," Adams said during a news conference on Monday. 

But this dangerousness standard is something that lawmakers rejected both in 2019 when the law was first written and then again when they made changes in 2020, saying that it disproportionately impacts people of color. 

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, one of the authors of the original bill, argues that judges do have some discretion in certain cases.

"They can provide drug treatment for folks who need that option," Walker said. "They could also provide mental health treatment, as well as provide bonds and community check-ins."

Walker said she has met with the mayor to discuss bail reform and has made it clear that she is against these proposed changes.

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"We want to make sure that the same system that kept Kalief Browder in Rikers Island to his untimely death through his inability to pay bail does not get replaced by a judge with inherent biases exacting who's dangerous and who's not dangerous and calling that progress," Walker added.

Around 2% of people who have been released under this law were arrested again for a violent felony and less than half of 1% of those re-arrests were for a crime involving a firearm, according to recent statistics released by the state's court system.

However, about 20% of people released under this law were arrested again for smaller crimes or misdemeanors.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said that while she is open to having a conversation with the mayor, right now the data seems to suggest that the law is working.

"It has become sort of a repetitive mantra — no matter what happens, it goes back to bail reform," Stewart-Cousins said. "There's nobody in my conference, and I'm sure nobody in the Legislature, who wants to see criminal activity go unrestrained or unpunished. But we just want to make sure that we're doing the right thing."

Adams' bail reform proposal does include a clause that would require transparency from judges if they decide to enact cash bail.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who was hit hard by Republicans on the bail reform issue in his failed bid for Nassau County district attorney, said these changes being proposed are common sense. 

"I practiced as a federal prosecutor under a system where you could argue to a judge that someone was a danger to the community as a basis for remanding them, whether they had $1 or a million dollars it didn't matter — they were a danger to the community," Kaminsky said. "They didn't have the opportunity to be out and hurting people while their trial was pending. I think that's absolutely appropriate."

Kaminsky also argued that this dangerousness standard was something that many judges have been using for years, despite it not being a legal reason to set bail in New York for more than 50 years.

"In New York state courts, it was only about a risk of flight, and you would kind of make the dangerousness argument couched in risk of flight terms, such as, 'Judge, this person was found with so many guns they're never going to come back to court,' which is really a way of, wink-wink, saying this person is dangerous and everybody kind of knew that," Kaminsky said. "I always thought, it's better just to put it forward. Have a statutory scheme whereby we know when and how it can be argued and what evidence needs to be put forth."

The bail reform law has been a source of contentious debate for the past few years. And with all 213 lawmakers up for reelection, the push for changes to the law is bound to be an ongoing fight in Albany.