New York Bail Reform Study Notes No Increase in Recidivism Generally – Though Certain ‘High Risk’ Individuals Showed Increase

Gavel with open book and scales on table

Gavel with open book and scales on table

By The Vanguard Staff

NEW YORK CITY, NY – A study of New York’s 2019/20 bail reform law has found—consistent with previous studies—the reform law is not “associated with an increase in recidivism in general, but only among certain ‘high-risk’ individuals,” according to the Data Collaborative for Justice (DCJ) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“Overall, we found that eliminating discretion to set bail for select charges, mostly misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, was not associated with a system-wide change in either two-year or pretrial recidivism in either direction,” the report summarized.

However, it did show that “when the analysis was narrowed to ‘high-risk’ individuals with a pending criminal case, we found an increase approaching statistical significance in violent felony recidivism within two years, and a statistically significant increase in pretrial violent felony recidivism.”

The authors noted the law, in July 2020, was amended to expand discretion “in a way that has already allowed judges to set bail for a substantial portion of people arraigned with a pending case.”

For instance, the study argues, “the so-called harm-to-harm provision permits bail if the current charge and an earlier pending charge are found to involve harm to an identifiable person or property. DCJ’s prior research has shown that policy changes narrowly tailored to such ‘high risk’ individuals were associated with a small recidivism reduction.”

In January 2020, New York implemented a bail reform law restricting judges’ discretion to set bail and detain people for certain charges, said DCJ, explaining its study “used a controlled-interrupted time series design (CITS) to compare recidivism rates before and after reform, as well as between cases made ineligible for bail (and) allowed us to minimize confounding from events occurring around the time of the reform (e.g., the Covid-19 pandemic).”

The report notes New York’s Bail Reform Law was passed in April 2019, and limited judges’ discretion to set bail or detain people. Previously, judges had the option to set bail in all cases. 

The law took effect in January 2020, and bail was eliminated for nearly all misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses, meaning pretrial release was mandated based on a single factor: the type of offense charged at arraignment.

However, the study acknowledges, in response to “concerns regarding public safety following implementation, New York’s bail reform law was amended several months later,” so that additional charges (mainly misdemeanors and non-violent felonies) became eligible for bail. 

And, “several amendments introduced eligibility criteria allowing judges to consider certain aspects of a person’s past involvement with the criminal justice system. For example, judges were permitted to set bail if the current charge and an earlier pending charge were found to involve ‘harm to an identifiable person or property.’ These changes effectively ended New York’s solely charge-based restriction on the use of bail,” the report noted.

The just-released report follows an initial report in the Data Collaborative for Justice’s Bail Reform and Recidivism Series – Does New York’s Bail Reform Law Impact Recidivism? A Quasi-Experimental Test in New York City.

The report added that “findings from this study are broadly consistent with prior research on New York’s bail reform. Two earlier studies found no impact of bail reform on crime rates within New York City or statewide.”


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