NY lawmakers consider proposed bail reforms as COVID-19 concerns continue rising

Lawmakers voiced opposition to loosening bail laws due to coronavirus; law enforcement officers maintain that an uptick in crime is linked to bail reduction

Denis Slattery
New York Daily News

ALBANY — Gov. Cuomo had informal discussions with prosecutors, criminal justice advocates and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea on Wednesday to discuss potential changes to New York’s bail laws.

The governor said the talks were inconclusive, but maintained his stance that any tweaks to the state’s controversial criminal justice reforms will be made in the budget — due April 1.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with lawmakers and law enforcement officials to discuss bail reforms as the coronavirus pandemic heightens a different set of concerns statewide. (Photo/TNS)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo met with lawmakers and law enforcement officials to discuss bail reforms as the coronavirus pandemic heightens a different set of concerns statewide. (Photo/TNS)

“We talked. We spoke to the issue,” Cuomo said. “There is a divergence of opinion... Obviously there’s people who have different opinions on what needs to be done and it was just a general conversation without a conclusion. It will be concluded in the budget.”

Cuomo and Shea were joined by Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez and Tina Luongo, the attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice.

Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) nor Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) were present for the chat.

The criminal justice overhauls ensuring prosecutors turn over evidence early and eliminating cash bail for most misdemeanors and “non-violent” felonies have been a lightning rod of controversy since taking effect Jan. 1 and have cast a shadow over the legislative session ever since.

The likelihood of alterations increased last month when Senate Dems floated a plan that would give judges discretion to lock up “persistent offenders” while eliminate cash bail for all crimes.

Republicans, law enforcement groups and some suburban Democrats have claimed the reforms jeopardize public safety, while advocates maintain they have made the criminal justice system more equitable.

Shea has taken heat for linking a January uptick in crime in the Big Apple to the reduction in bail.

Heastie, who has thus far resisted rolling back the reforms, said he also met with DAs and NYPD brass in recent weeks and is open to their concerns.

However, he added that the coronavirus pandemic has only heightened his concerns about making changes.

“The foundation of what we did, we think is the right and correct way to do things,” Heastie said. “To now sit here and pass a bill that can end up having more people incarcerated when we are concerned about the health status of people in jail and prisons, it’s like are we compounding the potential health crisis.”

The governor’s morning meeting came a day after the chairs of the Assembly and state Senate health committees also voiced their opposition to overhauling the state’s bail law in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Assemblyman Dick Gottfried (D-Manhattan) and Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx) echoed Heastie’s warning that rewriting the reforms could lead to more people in jails and increase the risk for people to contract the potentially deadly illness.

“With the spread of COVID-19, increased pre-trial detention is a massive health risk not only to those who are in jail but to the families and community to which they return and to the jail and court personnel,” they wrote in a letter to their colleagues in the Legislature.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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