Here is an excerpt from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's op-ed in the New York Times:
The fundamental tenet of criminal law in the United States is that all those accused of a crime in this country are presumed innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That fundamental principle is not limited to American law; it was also part of Roman law, Islamic law and English common law. This bedrock safeguard has been ratified on more than one occasion by the Supreme Court and is codified in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
And yet, despite the centrality of this protection, in New York City jails, where 86 percent of the population is black or Hispanic, 75 percent of inmates have not been convicted of a crime. They are simply incarcerated awaiting trial.
A similar story exists in jails across the state, where 60 percent of the incarcerated are being detained pretrial.
How is this possible? How is it that we have a system in which punishment is imposed before one is found guilty?
It begins with the inadequacies of our bail system.
Most people who are arrested in New York are released on their own recognizance. But others, including many who are charged with nonviolent crimes, are required to obtain bail to avoid pretrial detention. The problem is that many people lack the cash to make bail.
s a result, our jails are filled with people who have yet to be proved guilty of any crime, and the system today has devolved into one with two tiers: If you can make bail, you are set free; if you are too poor to make bail, you are punished.
This would be shameful enough if the interval between the bail proceeding and trial were a short one. Instead, the length of time between arraignment and trial can stretch into months and even years. The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution guarantees defendants a “speedy” trial, but no one can look at the operations of our court system and conclude that speediness is anyone’s priority.
Take the tragic case of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old African-American with no criminal record who was arrested in 2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack and spent three years at Rikers Island waiting for his day in court. Ultimately charges were dismissed, but the damage was done; his abuse while jailed was so traumatic that Mr. Browder determined taking his life was the only way to stop his continuing pain.
One such incident is intolerable, and it opened our eyes to the urgent need for real reform because we simply cannot risk another. A criminal justice system that ignores its cornerstone principle to the detriment of anyone — whether they are white, black, Latino, rich or poor — delegitimizes it. And we cannot allow this to persist.
This year, I am sending a bill to the State Legislature that will close the gap between what our criminal justice system says and what it does.
The bill will reform our bail system so that anyone facing misdemeanor or nonviolent felony charges should be released without bail. Those who pose a current danger to a person or persons or pose a risk of flight can still be held in detention, with due process, but no longer will people go to jail for the crime of being poor.
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