Law enforcement, DAs back criminal justice budget changes

Law enforcement, DAs back criminal justice budget changes

The changes adopted in the final New York state budget agreement to contentious issues surrounding when cash bail should be required and how quickly evidence is made available during discovery have won the backing of law enforcement organizations and district attorneys. 

The statements released from entities ranging from the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York to the Police Conference of New York, however, were in stark contrast to the advocacy organizations that had sought the initial changes to end cash bail requirements for many criminal charges first approved in 2019.

The budget, which was given final approval over the weekend, reflected the growing concern Democrats from Gov. Kathy Hochul to members of the state Senate and Assembly have over a rise in crime in the state and nation, and the perception from New York voters in an election year that action was required. 

“New York State’s Legislature and governor have clearly acknowledged that changes need to be made to address public safety risks in our communities and to address the uptick in violent crime all over our state,” said Washington County District Attoney Tony Jordan, a Republican who leads the statewide district attorneys group. “This year’s budget demonstrates a willingness towards finding solutions to protect victims and to ensure the safety of all of New York State’s businesses, residents, and visitors.”

Lawmakers and Hochul agreed to changes to the bail law meant to include more circumstances in which bail would be considered, such as some gun trafficking charges and upon re-arrest when a case is still pending. Lawmakers also agreed to make technical changes to discovery procedures local prosecutors had sought to. 

District attorneys from New York City, including Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez and Queens DA Melinda Katz, also praised changes. Both of their offices had been consulted last week as lawmakers and Hochul closed in on a final deal. 

Police officials, too, praised the changes included in the budget.  

“I commend New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and welcome the improvements in the bail laws of our state,” said Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa, a Democrat. “Public safety is the responsibility of us all, amending laws to protect New Yorkers is positive progress towards creating a safer New York for all residents.”

Lawmakers and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo had initially approved the 2019 bail law as a way of reducing the number of people in local jails awaiting trial. Cash bail has been considered discriminatory for poorer defendants, often people of color. 

But growing voter concerns in the last year over a rise in violent crime has spurred the push in the state budget to make changes to include more instances in which a defendant is remanded. 

A coalition of progressive entities that had fought against the changes, including the Center for Community Alternatives, New York Communities for Change, VOCAL-NY, The Legal Aid Society, Envision Freedom Fund and The Bronx Defenders, indicated they will continue to press for reforms to the system. 

”We are saddened and deeply disappointed by the reactionary and ill-informed changes elected leaders are currently trying to push through the budget,” the groups said in a statement. “The facts are clear: bail reform has not caused the increase in gun violence in New York. And yet, our elected leaders are considering capitulating to fear and politics by rolling back provisions of a successful policy instead of addressing the very real problems that our communities are facing, including a mental health crisis, gun violence and poverty.”