New York court report: Bails drop but racial disparities persist

On January 1, 2020, New York ended cash bail for most nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies, as part of a controversial reform to the state’s bail system, which also sought to reduce pretrial detention, disparities race and maintain public safety.

Two years later, a study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Data Collaborative for Justice (DJC) found that state judges set fewer bail and increased the use of non-monetary conditions under the new statutes. They also found that while racial disparities in bail setting and pretrial detention were slightly narrower in 2021, the gap between blacks and whites persists.

The report, released Wednesday, analyzes the results of pretrial release and bail in New York state in 2020 and 2021, the first two years of implementation of the reform.
“Our latest report finds that while some aspects of the law are being adhered to, such as judges increasing their use of non-monetary conditional release, gaps remain in implementation, especially in setting affordable bail,” Olive said. Lu, associate director of research, Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ) and co-author of the report.

One of the key findings of the “Two Years In: 2020 Bail Reforms in Action in New York State” report was that while all racial groups saw lower rates of bail or pretrial detention in the first quarter of 2020 and higher rates for thereafter, blacks faced consistently higher rates of bail or pretrial detention in both 2020 and 2021 compared to Latinos and whites.

Low payment rates

Latinos, in particular, had the lowest bail rates, especially in non-violent felony cases.

It also revealed that despite the fact that the reform requires considering what people can pay when the bail is established, the judges established higher amounts within the implementation period of 2020 to 2021. In turn, the percentage of people who paid the bail at arraignment decreased significantly from 26% in 2019 to 18% in both 2020 and 2021.

The researchers also evaluated the use of electronic devices, one of the provisions related to non-monetary release conditions, as the reformed bail laws allow judges to order monitoring of defendants for any felony offense and certain misdemeanors. when “no other realistic non-monetary conditions or set of non-monetary conditions are sufficient to reasonably ensure the defendant’s return to court”.

It must be remembered that the purpose of the bond is to guarantee the defendant’s appearance in court at his next hearing.

Overall, electronic monitoring (EM) use was more prevalent in the North and suburbs than in New York City, where its use has been negligible (only 5 cases in 2020 and 2021 combined) despite efforts by the city in early 2020 to release people incarcerated to home confinement with MS in response to the rise in Covid-19 infections on Rikers Island.

Other findings include:

  • From 2019 to 2020, New York State felony and misdemeanor arraignments fell 40%, followed by a 17% increase in 2021.
  • Bail or pretrial detention rates for robbery and burglary, sex crimes, homicide, and felony weapons offenses increased when comparing early 2020 to late 2021.
  • In general, the use of bail or direct preventive detention by judges decreased from 2019 to 2020; and then remained stable from 2020 to 2021.
  • From 2020 to 2021 there were decreases in the frequency of judges releasing people on parole (without conditions).
  • In accordance with the intent of the amended statute, the use of supervised release by judges increased from 2019 to 2021.

The study provides some hard data to support the debate around bail reform, which has its detractors and supporters and has so far largely focused on its impact on public safety.

Michael Rempel, director of the Data Collaborative for Justice and co-author of the study, said the results point to a combination of successes and shortcomings and as researchers they are confident the report will help policymakers better implement it in the future.

“With this report, we seek to examine how reform is faring on three of its many goals: reducing the use of bail, making it more affordable, and reducing racial disparities,” Rempel said.

The data

For the report, DCJ analyzed data from the Office of Court Administration (OCA) from January 2019 to December 2021. The data includes cases prosecuted in 69 municipal and district courts in 62 New York State counties.

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