EDITORIAL: Stop spreading lies about bail reform

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Two years after New York passed reforms to its cash bail system, dishonest politicians are still out misleading the public about them, pandering for votes by scaring people into thinking that liberals are handing out “Get Out of Jail Free” cards to murderers and rapists.

”As women and mothers,” congressional candidate Liz Joy said during a sparsely attended Mother’s Day rally on Sunday, “we have witnessed repeat violent offenders, sexual abusers, domestic violence abusers, horrifically violent gang members be purposely — purposely — released onto our streets, into our neighborhoods, affecting our children, our sons and our daughters.”

Legitimate criticism of any law is fair.

But this kind fear-mongering is dangerous, dishonest and counterproductive to efforts to reform our judicial system — and no one should either promote these tactics or support those who do.

First off, bail is not about punishment. It’s to ensure suspects show up for court to ensure that the public gets justice.

Reforms are designed to instill more fairness in a system that rewards suspects with freedom simply because of his or her ability to pay.

There are numerous accounts of individuals charged with fairly minor, non-violent crimes sitting in jail for months or years because they couldn’t pay even modest amounts of bail — needlessly punishing them with job loss, family separation and other issues before they’re even convicted of anything.

The reforms provide other means to ensure compliance with court orders.

When New York passed its initial bail reform in April 2019 for non-violent crimes, there were definitely problems.

The law, for instance, included too many charges that should have been considered violent crimes and therefore deemed ineligible for automatic release.

Unfortunately, there were a handful of circumstances in which violent criminals were issued appearance tickets and later committed new crimes.

In response, the Legislature in July 2020 amended the law to close many of its loopholes, including expanding the list of crimes eligible for pretrial detention and making other needed changes.

Those stories about waves of violent crime resulting from more people being released without bail have proven to be false, with only a few cases attributed to someone released under the reforms.

Other states that have passed bail reform, including New Jersey, also did not experience spikes in crime as a result.

It’s still too early to determine the effectiveness of the reforms on racial disparities and other goals. And there are still legitimate concerns about the system and more changes that need to be made to ensure fairness to indigent suspects and to protect public safety.

But one thing is clear: Spewing fear to gain political points only makes the challenges of reforming an unfair system even more difficult.

It needs to stop.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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