New data offer first look at impact of changes
On Sept. 28, the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department issued a press release about the arrest of a Bronx man on the Taconic State Parkway.
The New York Police Department had put out an alert about a shooting, the suspect’s car was spotted, a chase ensued, the vehicle was ditched in a driveway in Putnam Valley and the male driver arrested, “processed and released.”
The department’s Facebook page exploded.
“Shooting… police chase… released?” “This state is such a joke. How demoralizing that they get released with the hope they show up at court. Why bother anymore?” “God help us with this bail reform.”
However, as the Sheriff’s Department later clarified, the driver was not charged in connection to a shooting — the NYPD was just looking for the car. He was charged with two misdemeanors — fleeing a police officer and reckless driving — and given a date to return to Putnam Valley Court.
The reactions in this case, while based on a lack of information, reflect common concerns about who is being released under a law that, as of Jan. 1, 2020, eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
Bail reform has been central to many political campaigns in New York, with Republican candidates hammering Democrats who offered support or voted for the law and attempting to establish a direct connection between the release of defendants and perceptions of rising lawlessness, particularly in urban areas.
However, updated information released last month by the state Department of Criminal Justice Services on the effects of reform is far from conclusive. Generally, people accused of crimes are returning to court and not being arrested again while their cases are pending at the same levels as before bail reform. But in New York City, rates fell or stayed flat as reported crime rose, while in the rest of the state, rates increased slightly while reported crimes dropped from 2019 levels.
Notably, the statistics do not include defendants who appear in town and village courts. However, for the first time, they compared failure-to-appear and re-arrest rates from 2019, before bail reform, to 2020 and the first nine months of 2021. The state also broke down failure-to-appear and re-arrests by the type of release provided by the judge: without restrictions; supervised release; or release after paying bail.
In New York City, the failure-to-appear rate fell by 40 percent through September 2021, according to the data. For the rest of the state, failure-to-appear was essentially unchanged, rising from 17 percent to 18 percent.
New York City saw slight increases in the rate at which people were arrested for other crimes after being released and in the percentage charged with other, violent felonies before their earlier cases were prosecuted. For defendants released on their own recognizance or after paying bail, re-arrests fell in 2021 compared to 2019.
The re-arrest rate was highest for people released under pretrial supervision or with court-ordered conditions, but it stayed flat.
The rest of the state, where overall crime fell 5.8 percent but violent crime rose 3.4 percent from 2019 to 2021, fared worse. Outside of New York City, people released under the new bail laws were re-arrested at a rate 5 percentage points higher in 2021 than 2019, and 2 percentage points higher for re-arrests involving violent felonies.
According to an analysis by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, an estimated 19,000 fewer defendants were jailed before trial in 2020 than in 2019. Before bail reform, advocates say, there were no limits on what charges were eligible for incarceration or what bail amounts judges could set.
The system created a “perverse connection between financial means and freedom,” said Rossanna Rosado, the commissioner for the Department of Criminal Justice Services. “This unnecessary detention was deeply harmful to individuals, families and communities, particularly those of color and the poorest among us.”
Advocates argue that the laws save taxpayers money. In Dutchess, for example, where the jail population fell to about 200 inmates per day after bail reform, the Legislature reduced the size of a new jail being built in Poughkeepsie by 42 percent, from 569 to 328 beds. The smaller facility, which will be completed in 2024, is expected to cost $131.4 million, or $23 million less than appropriated, according to the county comptroller.
In December 2021, data released by New York State showed that about 20 percent of the defendants released since bail reform after being charged with misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies were charged again with other crimes before their original prosecutions were completed, but only a small number of those arrests were for violent felonies.
The data included 284,100 arraignments between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021, in courts in New York City, 61 cities (including Beacon) and two district courts.
Of the 184,653 cases in which defendants were released without bail, about 8.6 percent were re-arrested on new misdemeanor charges, 5.8 percent on new nonviolent felony charges and 2.2 percent on new violent felonies before their earlier cases were complete.
The same pattern held at the Beacon City Court. Of 212 people released at arraignment, 20 were arrested on new misdemeanor charges, seven on new nonviolent felony charges and three on new violent felony charges.