Controversial new state bail laws that some politicians say lead to offenders getting released and then rearrested actually had the opposite overall effect, according to a new study of criminal justice data, reported by the Gothamist a New York City non-profit newsroom.
The study, from John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice, showed that the 2020 bail reform laws eliminating judges’ ability to impose bail for low-level crimes actually reduced the likelihood that someone would get arrested again.
The one exception was for bail-eligible people who were released following recent violent felony arrests. The rate of rearrests for that cohort of offenders increased slightly.
“Fundamentally, we found that eliminating bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies reduced recidivism in New York City, while there was no clear effect in either direction for cases remaining bail eligible,” said Michael Rempel, director of John Jay College’s Data Collaborative for Justice, in a statement.
The study did not delve into the reasons behind the relative lack of recidivism among those who were released without having to pay bail. But experts have said that even temporary incarceration can lead to termination from jobs, family disruption and housing loss, which can incentivize further criminal activity.
The purpose of the 2020 reform laws was to allow people charged with most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies to be released while their cases played out in court. That meant they didn’t have to choose between paying bail and going to the dangerous Rikers Island jails. Instead, judges had to release people under other conditions like supervised release, which involves nonprofit agencies in the community doing monitoring and support.
The reforms were designed to reduce incarceration and stop putting people in jail just because they could not afford to post bail. But since the laws went into effect, politicians who oppose bail reform — such as Democratic Mayor Eric Adams — and conservative outlets like The New York Post, have argued that the laws went too far and led to violent criminals roaming free on city streets.
"We have a recidivism problem in New York and far too many people, there's about 2,000 people who are repeatedly catch, release, repeat in crimes," Adams said earlier this month. "If we don't take them off our streets, they're going to continue to prey on innocent people."
This new study found that the two-year rearrest rate for those released due to bail reform was 44%, compared to 50% for those with similar charges, criminal histories and demographics who were held in jail in the period before the reform.
It also took longer for those released as a result of bail reform to get rearrested than those forced to do a stint in jail after being charged.
Since the bail reform measures passed in 2019 and 2020, the new laws’ effect on crime has been perhaps the most debated topic in New York politics. It was a central focus of last year’s state elections, with Republicans and conservative Democrats alike claiming it led to spikes in crime, especially shootings and burglaries, because people were released without bail and went on to commit illegal acts. But so far data to prove that assertion has been limited, as have analyses countering the argument.
Tuesday's report tracked alleged offenders over a longer period than prior studies — including the time after cases were disposed of — and compared rearrests of those released pretrial due to bail reform and other statistically similar people who were held in jail.
“Our goal with this study was to substantially upgrade the credibility of information known to New Yorkers about bail reform and recidivism,” said Rempel in a statement.
Bail reform remains a hotly debated topic. Gov. Kathy Hochul is now seeking to eliminate the mandate that judges impose the “least restrictive condition” necessary on those charged with crimes still eligible for the imposition of bail, like violent felonies. The change would give more discretion to judges to allow them to impose higher bail amounts in order to keep more people locked up pretrial if they can’t afford to pay. But opponents say the proposal is unconstitutional.
The bail reform laws were initially passed in 2019 and modified in 2020 and 2022. The latest modifications went into effect in May and were not part of the John Jay study.
Offenses that are still not eligible for mandatory release are almost all violent felonies, sex offenses and certain domestic violence cases. Judges can order holding certain repeat offenders and those deemed a flight risk.
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