As of the first of the year, New York state has new, restrictive laws regarding use of bail in their criminal justice system. Specifically, courts are no longer allowed to charge people to be set free for misdemeanor charges and nonviolent felonies.
There are some exceptions to the law, with some sex crimes and domestic violence-related violations remaining eligible for bail at the judgment of the courts, but many troubling crimes, such as selling narcotics on school grounds, are no longer allowed to trigger any incarceration until a guilty verdict is reached.
The new rules come alongside a reversal of New York’s “blindfold” laws, which allow the perpetrators rapid access to most information to be used against them, potentially including details like the names and addresses of witnesses. This raises concerns that some witnesses may be less inclined to testify against people who are potentially violent (like gang members) but are being charged with nonviolent acts.
The laws have been changed due to inequity; poorer people have a much greater chance of being held following charges, no matter how strong or how weak those charges may be. They are less likely to have enough wealth to set a collateral against the possibility of not appearing in court.
The legislative changes were pushed through after multiple stories of wrongful or dubious incarceration were brought to light, and after a pilot program in Buffalo met with some success at reducing the amount of inmates.
Critics of the changes point to the fact that, while Buffalo’s program may have reduced the local jail population, Buffalo is now one of the least safe cities in the country, better protected than only 4% of the nation per data analysis at places like neighborhoodscout. They also bring up the case of Tiffany Harris, a New York City woman who received statewide attention when she recently was arrested for slapping a number of Jewish women.
“Yes, I slapped them. I cursed them out. I said ‘F-U, Jews,’” Harris admitted to cops after that attack, according to a criminal complaint.New York Post
She was immediately released, and the next day punched another young woman in the face. Following her arrest, she was released again. On Monday, she allegedly mildly attacked her counselor, pinching the woman, and Tiffany was arrested again. She is now being held at a hospital pending a mental evaluation, with her lawyers complaining that she is sane and the new laws are being bypassed.
This sort of problem is the natural result of the bail reform package that has been pushed through by New York. I welcome it.
That is not to say that I think the new laws are good. I suspect they are going to fail in spectacular ways, and need to be modified or rolled back. What I like about them is that this is federalism in action. This is a perfect example of states seeing a problem and attempting to address it. As New York joins California and New Jersey in their respective efforts on criminal justice reform, all of the states will be able to judge whether their actions have been, on the whole, successful for their state populations.
This is exactly how the country is supposed to work. I hope only that the blatant failures of the New York laws are recognized and corrected quickly, to minimize any hardship for the state citizenry.