ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – State lawmakers are currently deep in negotiations to finalize New York’s budget, which includes Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposals to roll back the state’s landmark 2019 bail reform law. WSKG looks at how the bail reform amendment could affect the Southern Tier.
TOM MAGNARELLI, HOST:
Megan, thanks for joining us.
MEGAN ZEREZ, BYLINE:
What does Hochul want to do?
So the biggest thing is giving judges the ability to consider a defendant’s “dangerousness.” That could mean looking at their criminal history or checking if they have access to a gun. Currently judges have limited ability to do that. Hochul also wants to make more crimes bail eligible, like some non-violent hate crimes and illegal gun possession.
You had a chance to look at statewide and regional data that tracked people who were released before their trials. What does the data show?
Well in our region, when bail reform first passed, there was a slight increase in the re-arrest rate, as critics warned. That’s the number of people who were released and later arrested for another crime. In 2019, the year before bail reform went into effect, the re-arrest rate was at 14%. Now it’s about 20%. Most of those second arrests, at least in the Southern Tier, were for minor or non-violent crimes. When you just look at the increase in violent crime, re-arrests went up about one percentage point. Now experts I spoke to say that’s pretty modest. Currently, only about 1.5% of people released without bail are re-arrested for a violent crime.
As for discrimination, that’s a bit harder to measure, but I did see that the racial breakdown of people held on bail moved a bit closer to what the overall population looks like. But, again, that change is also pretty slight.
So we have the numbers. And we know what politicians and activists are saying. But what would these new changes that Hochul is proposing mean for defendants?
So to answer that question I spoke to longtime Broome County defense attorney Patrick Kilker. He says even though some of his clients might end up waiting out their trial behind bars, he welcomes the changes.
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The added discretion does allow the judge to take a look into the person, their criminal history and such. And a person that may have something in their past may have something to be concerned about when they go before a judge. It’s reviewed for purposes of whether they’re a safety risk to society.
Kilker says there are some people who need intervention that they might not get if they were released.
And he’s not sure if Hochul’s amendments are going to make that big of a difference, at least in the Southern Tier. Kilker says as he understands it, the most impactful parts of the original law would remain intact.
Right. That is, most people arrested for non-violent crimes don’t have to post bail.
Exactly. Kilker says you have to remember these folks haven’t been proven guilty. And even a little bit time spent in jail can really impact someone’s life. They could lose their job, they could be evicted, they could lose custody of their kids. Kilker says bail reform helped his clients avoid some of those impacts. And he’s hopeful it’ll stay that way.
That was WSKG’s Megan Zerez. Thank you Megan.