By Perla Brito
ALBANY, NY – New York State Senator Julia Salazar and Assembly member Latrice Walker said in an opinion piece this week in “City & State NY” that Gov. Kathy Hochul’s “proposal to weaken bail reform will harm our communities. We can’t accept it.”
Both lawmakers said they “represent districts impacted by both crime and mass incarceration.”
Salazar is the chair of the Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections, and Walker represents Brownsville and Ocean Hill and sponsored the 2019 bail reform in the Assembly” (City & State NY).
The authors admitted, “Everyone has a right to be safe. We, ourselves, are survivors of violence. As lawmakers, we do not treat this subject lightly. That is why both houses of the Legislature included substantial investments in community safety in our budget proposals and why we are fighting for the final budget to go further.
“One proposal we cannot accept: Changes to weaken bail reform and subject more Black, Brown and working-class New Yorkers to the well-documented abuses at Rikers Island and other local jails.”
The lawmakers opined Gov. Hochul’s top priority is the expansion of mass incarceration (City & State NY), and “won’t negotiate the rest of the budget until we agree to her plan. As a separate branch of government, we have a duty to our constituents to reject it, all the same.”
The authors state “Rolling back bail reform will not make us safer. On the contrary, the data is clear that jailing more Black, Brown and poor people destabilizes families and communities and makes everyone less safe.”
Instead, they said, incarceration is “Cycling people through traumatic jails causes them to lose their jobs, apartments, and even custody of their children, miss out on medical routines, and more, which increases the likelihood of rearrest.”
Those are just short-term effects, the legislators add, but longer-term “this double standard of justice deepens the divides in our society – rich and poor, Black, brown and white, and hope and despair – that create the conditions in which violence is most likely to occur.”
Salazar and Walker noted that in Gov. Hochul’s State of the State Address, she acknowledged that pretrial reform has not led to a rise in crime. In fact, this was also reiterated by her administration in the joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly Codes, Judiciary and Corrections committee (City & State NY).
According to Salazar and Walker, “The data show that bail reform has succeeded in reducing the injustice of pretrial incarceration and upholding public safety. In fact, bail reform has reduced recidivism and increased court appearance rates.”
They also said, “None of this means we, as legislators, can sit on our hands and do nothing. But a politicized focus on bail reform distracts from real solutions for community safety. New York must take an evidence-based approach to address the root causes of crime by investing in safe and affordable housing, mental health services, employment opportunities, and a robust and inclusive safety net.”
Salazar and Walker insisted enacting policies like the Housing Access Voucher Program, which will help to end homelessness, and the Good Cause Eviction bill to prevent arbitrary evictions, adopting the Unemployment Bridge Program – a critical and commonsense expansion of the safety net to include workers excluded from the current program are some of the first steps in making these changes (City & State NY).
“Gov. Hochul’s bail proposal would upend decades of settled law, not just the 2019 reforms, and invite greater judicial bias, leading to more Black, brown, and poor people in jail pretrial,” wrote the lawmakers.
They added, “The ‘least restrictive conditions’ standard does nothing more than prevent judges from using bail as a way to sentence people to jail without a conviction. Bail was never supposed to be a punishment,” but a mechanism to ensure people fulfill their obligations to the court and answer the charges against them which has been the standard in New York since the Civil Rights Era (City & State NY).
Salazar and Walker said “We can’t follow Gov. Hochul down the path of expanding mass jailing, mass inequality and mass desperation. We cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis in our jails, where the death rate reached record levels last year, and condemn more people there to be traumatized, to be physically and emotionally scarred for life.”
They continued, “That would be a victory for the racist politics of mass incarceration – more people, families and communities destabilized, more wrongful convictions, more people losing their housing, their jobs, and custody of their children.”
Salazar and Walker close with, “We are working with our colleagues in the Legislature for a budget that will truly make our communities safer and stronger.
“And if Gov. Hochul chooses to delay the budget and keep us in Albany as part of her push to expand mass incarceration, we’ll be ready with extra changes of clothing, plenty of healthy snacks, and enough fire in our bellies to keep up the fight for as long as it takes.”