There’s almost no way to take politics out of policy. But one issue that’s become too political is the policy on bail reform. And it needs to stop.
After several years of debate on this matter — including legislators making major revisions to the original law — it’s time for the governor, legislators and other politicians from both parties to address the concerns about the law on their merits, and not on fear, emotion, misinformation or hyperbole.
The concept of holding an arrested individual before conviction has too much of an impact on too many people’s lives for politicians to continue to use it as a football to score political points.
If politicians could set aside their own ambitions for the public good, they would work with prosecutors, police, the defense bar, civil rights advocates and social justice workers to come up with a law that keeps dangerous criminals off the streets before trial, but which also prevents the current system from destroying the lives of nonviolent offenders too poor to post cash bail.
Those who try to gain by exaggerating the problems with the law are partially to blame for the politicization of the issue. But equally to blame are the politicians who downplay the flaws in the law and ignore legitimate concerns raised by opponents, hoping to deflect the public’s criticism of themselves for inaction.
Gov. Kathy Hochul touched on bail reform in her state of the state message on Tuesday out of political necessity. But she did little to address opponents’ concerns.
Her big idea was to eliminate the requirement that judges impose the “least restrictive” means of ensuring that defendants return to court when it comes to those accused of serious crimes.
But that change doesn’t tackle concerns that judges may feel compelled to generally release suspects to comply with the law. Nor does it address concerns that some suspects who are being released should be held pre-trial because the seriousness of their crimes makes them a flight risk and releasing them endangers society.
The decision on whether to continue the bail reforms in their present form or to make adjustments should be based on actual, relevant statistics directly related to the bail system and the actual experiences those involved.
To what degree are dangerous criminals being released because of the reforms, compared to the degree they were being released prior to them? Is there a need for more judicial discretion on setting cash bail? How well have the reforms worked in achieving their original goal of ensuring the poor aren’t punished with jail time because of their inability post bail while wealthier people charged with similar crimes are released?
What alternatives to cash bail are working and which aren’t?
Those are the questions that need to be addressed in deciding what changes, if any, are needed to the law.
It’s time for politicians on both sides of the issue to base their positions on the facts and stop using people’s lives for political gain.
Only then will we have a law that serves and protects all the people.