The rate of rearrests of people released without cash bail following non-violent felonies declined statewide from 2020 to 2021, the two years following implementation of new bail laws. The figure lends some insight into the effect of the new laws, but more data is still needed to draw larger conclusions on bail reform.
WSHU’s Charles Lane analyzed some of the data and discussed his findings with WSKG’s Vaughn Golden.
VAUGHN GOLDEN: A key point from the data shows that rearrests fell between 2020 and 2021. Can you explain a little bit about what that means?
CHARLES LANE: So a rearrest is when someone is arrested for one crime and while they’re awaiting trial for that crime, they are rearrested for another crime. This is what critics of changes to the state’s bail laws say is leading to higher crime and less public safety. So this is the rearrest rate and that fell in the second year of quote unquote, bail reform statewide. This went from 23% of people being rearrested while awaiting trial to about 17%. So about 5% fewer defendants were rearrested in year two of the new bail laws. In Tompkins and Broome counties, they were pretty average with about a 4.5% drop.
GOLDEN: Okay, do we know why the rearrest rate dropped in that second year?
LANE: Not entirely, but I can, I can add a couple of things here in the first one being judges were setting bail and nonmonetary release or supervised release more frequently in 2021. Compared to 2020, what they were doing less of is just releasing defendants out on their own recognizance.
And what all that means is that judges were, judges reduced the number of times that they just let people go. And so instead, there’s so many, they are now putting some sort of restriction on it either in terms of, in the form of bail, or some other kind of like supervision check-in like an ankle bracelet or like phone calls or drop-in visits, something like that. And this sort of ties in with the second difference between year one and year two of the new bail laws. Local jurisdictions in year two had more time to stand up supervision programs.
I did a lot of reporting on this a number of months ago and what I saw was that the new bail laws when they were first being enacted, there was a significant shift in responsibilities from jails to a sort of a constellation of services largely provided by probation departments. And there was you know, there was a funding gap from the state and some counties were having to create supervision programs from scratch.
So in the first year of bail reform there was a lot of adjustments. And, you know, it’s conceivable that it took a year to get through that adjustment period. And some of these programs, they’re still being created, and they are being funded more now. So there’s reason to believe that year three will be better than year two.
GOLDEN: So there’s been a lot of political rhetoric around these new bail laws, especially coming from a lot of Republicans that criticize them and kind of make the claim that they make us less safe. What does the data suggest around that kind of criticism?
LANE: Frustratingly, we don’t really have, well, at least the data isn’t publicly available and so we don’t really know. But, I can add a couple of things for context. In year two of the new bail laws, statewide 4.7% of defendants released in non-monetary supervision went on to commit a violent felony. In Tompkins and Broome counties, this was a single crime for the entire year of 2021. Now, the question that elected officials and their voters have to decide is if that single case, if that single case where someone was victimized, if that was worth what advocates say is the benefit of the new bail laws, and that benefit would be defendants not sitting in jail because they didn’t have money. In Tompkins and Broome that benefit was 56 people who were given non-monetary release and weren’t rearrested. Instead, they, you know, they went on to, you know, work and watch the children and participate in society, however they normally do that. So in Tompkins and Broome, the the trade off that I think people have to ask themselves, at least in 2021, was was that one violent felony worth the 56 people awaiting trial outside of jail and not committing another crime?