A conversation on bail reform: What's at stake and the data behind what's really going on

How New York’s bail reform law came to be

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Until April 2019, bail laws in New York State had not been overhauled since 1971. 

Despite all defendants being presumed innocent before being proven guilty, nearly 70% of the average 24,000 people in jails on a given day across the state in 2018 were being held pre-trial and had not been convicted of a crime. 

It lead to the mass incarceration of mainly Black, brown and low income people who could not make bail. The result was the destabilization of countless lives, exposure to violence, especially on Rikers Island, and the increased likelihood of resolving cases by taking plea deals in return for freedom or shorter sentences. 

The bail reform law aimed to address the disparities, but received strong pushback from its inception. It was implemented on January 1, 2020 — just months before the COVID pandemic created a state of emergency. 

By the summer, violent crimes increased in New York City as law enforcement, politicians and critics linked the spikes to bail reform laws. However, researchers and criminologists have yet to definitively make the correlation.

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