Op-ed by Rebecca Johnson
I thought Bail Reform needed tweaks; but after doing some research with the United Christian Leadership Ministries I realized I was wrong. Bail Reform is a well-thought-out law that will provide fairer justice and increased community safety.
Our extensive examination of issue included consulting with law enforcement leaders, attorneys, and legislators. We found that misinformation is widespread—with potentially tragic results.
We’re not saying that the misinformation is intentional. Rather, we see that important decision-makers are inadequately informed about this complex law. Immediate and thorough education is needed for law enforcement, legislators, press, and the public.
What we discovered
Most importantly: Bail Reform has changed nothing for affluent defendants, including people who are potentially dangerous or charged with serious crimes.
For example: Chris Porco, an affluent white University of Rochester student, attacked his parents with an axe. After paying $200,000 bail, Porco (who had a prior history of felonies) was free for 9 months before being tried and sentenced to 50+ years.
Sheldon Silver, former Speaker of NY Assembly, was sentenced to prison twice for felony corruption. He remains free on bail while his conviction is being appealed.
Samples of Misinformation
“Bail Reform releases people accused of violent crimes.” NO. Nearly all defendants charged with violent crimes can be held on bail.
“Even people with dangerous medical or mental health problems must be freed.” NO. A person in need of medical or mental health care can be brought before a judge, who can mandate treatment.
“Bail Reform endangers victims of domestic violence.” NO. A person charged with domestic violence can be brought before a judge for an order of protection. This is the same as under the old bail laws. If the domestic violence offence is serious, the defendant can be held.
Bail Reform is successful
For two years, Tompkins County has operated with cashless bail in most cases, including most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. In 2018, Tompkins County arrests declined dramatically as compared to pre-bail-reform 2016: 17% for felonies and nearly 20% on misdemeanor charges.
According to Don Pryor of the Center for Governmental Research, “What we know now suggests that Bail Reform—accompanied by effective alternative-to-incarceration programs and policies aimed at those who would otherwise have been detained in jail while awaiting adjudication of their cases—can have its desired effect without compromising public safety.
New Yorkers Want Justice for All
Before Bail Reform, more than 60% of jailed New Yorkers were confined only because they couldn’t afford bail. They lost jobs, housing, benefits, or even children due to pre-trial incarceration.
But NY’s affluent – dangerous or not – simply paid their way out.
New York’s want community safety and justice. Bail Reform promotes both.
Rebecca Johnson is a retired Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and a United Christian Leadership Ministries (UCLM) volunteer. She is the wife of Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) President Emeritus Bill Destler.
( The views expressed on our opinion pages are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or viewpoint of Minority Reporter.)