Reform Movement Position:
RJV supports the Governor’s bail reform proposal (S7505/A9505) and legislation which would remove constraints on charitable bail organizations (S4776/A4880) both of which will decrease money bail’s unjust effects on poor individuals accused of crimes.
New York’s reliance upon cash bail means that many defendants charged with misdemeanor and low level, non-violent felony crimes, who do not present a risk to public safety but cannot afford bail, are detained awaiting trial. Over 25,000 New Yorkers are in jail pre-trial, two-thirds of whom are being held because they cannot make bail. Although presumed innocent, during pretrial detention these defendants are separated from their families and often their jobs. Some defendants may be swayed to accept guilty pleas simply to avoid further pretrial incarceration. In these ways, the current system of cash bail imposes a tremendous cost upon low-level offenders, as well as upon the local and state governments that must pay for their unwarranted pretrial incarceration. At the same time, New York’s reliance upon cash bail means that defendants who may present risks to public safety are able to post bail and obtain release while awaiting the disposition of their cases. New York is one of just four states in the nation that does not allow public safety to be taken into consideration by judges making decisions about pretrial release and bail. The money bail system does not protect public safety while defendants await trial, but it does unjustly incarcerated individuals because they are poor.
The New York State Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2019 recognizes the need for bail reform, and, to that end, focuses upon the elimination of cash bail for defendants who are accused of low-level, non-violent crimes. Legislation introduced with the Executive Budget creates a presumption that such defendants will be released without cash bail (S7505/A9505). They may be released upon their own recognizance or, if warranted, under non-monetary conditions. Such conditions may include the supervision by a local pretrial services agency, restrictions upon travel, association, and weapons possession, and the use of an electronic monitoring device. In all cases, courts will be required to select the least restrictive alternative that will reasonably ensure attendance at court appearances.
Under the proposed legislation, cash bail would be permitted in in some violent felony cases. In such cases, cash bail conditions could be imposed, but only after the completion of individualized assessments of the cases and of the personal and financial circumstances of the defendants.
In related legislative proposals that have been introduced in the New York State Assembly and Senate, the Insurance Law would be amended to relieve charitable bail organizations from regulations that place undue restrictions upon their ability to assist those criminal defendants who are not presumptively released without cash bail prior to trial. Under this legislation, charitable organizations would be able to provide cash assistance of up to $10,000.00, as well as social services, for low income defendants. This will assist the defendants in avoiding unjust pretrial incarceration because they cannot afford to post bail (S4776/A4880).
Reform Jewish Voice proudly supports legislation that will eliminate cash bail
Reform Jewish Values:
‘Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” (“Justice, justice shall you pursue”) (Deuteronomy 16:20). This text teaches that, as Jews, we are told to seek justice, but also to ensure that the means that we use to seek justice are just in themselves. Drawing from this and other foundational Jewish texts that emphasize the importance of protecting life and promoting the rehabilitation of those who have done wrong, the Union for Reform Judaism has long supported a criminal justice system that it is humane in its treatment and that seeks the rehabilitation of criminals. As far back as 1968, in its resolution on “Crime,” the URJ resolved to support measures to “modernize and humanize correctional and judicial procedures, with particular emphasis on alternatives to incarceration. It has noted that crime is most effectively reduced by addressing the root causes of criminal activity, including “poverty, discrimination, ignorance, disease and urban blight.” The URJ has acknowledged the deep racial disparities that exist in many aspects of the criminal justice system and has advocated for policies that increase equity in how justice is administered.