Cash bail could soon be a thing of the past in New York, thanks to concerns that the system discriminates against minority and low-income communities.
The New York State Justice Task Force last month recommended that state lawmakers overhaul the current bail system. The group, comprised of judges, lawyers, and law enforcement officials, joined a growing chorus of those calling for an end a system that often requires people charged with a crime to put up significant amounts of money in order to be released from jail while they await a trial.
“Put simply, it has become abundantly clear that far too many defendants, who are presumed innocent, are nonetheless left to languish in our State’s jails because they cannot afford to pay bail,” the task force said in the report. “This has a profound toll on those individuals, who are disconnected from society and stand to lose jobs or housing, and who may also feel pressure to plead guilty even when they are not.”
The task force and other groups have said that judges should presume that people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies should be released pending their next court date. They said exceptions can be made in situations in which the person is found to pose a safety threat or significant flight risk. The groups also want more resources put into making sure that defendants in criminal cases are aware of those court dates.
Changes could be coming soon. Governor Andrew Cuomo last summer pledged to end cash bail “once and for all,” according to Gotham Gazette. Now that Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, observers expect him to make that move sooner than later.
The biggest questions are how much Cuomo and state lawmakers will rely on the task force’s suggestions and what sort of leeway they will give judges to make individual bail decisions based on the circumstances. There’s also an ongoing debate over the use of electronic tracking devices to monitor criminal defendants’ whereabouts in advance of court dates.