Gov. Hochul proposes making more crimes eligible for bail
ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul, under pressure on crime issues, has a new package of public safety proposals that includes allowing judges to set bail on a wider array of charges.
Hochul, a Democrat running for election in the fall, has a multi-point plan obtained by Newsday that would make more crimes bail-eligible, including those involving weapons and any occurring on a subway or bus against a passenger or employee.
It also would allow judges to set bail for a defendant who has been charged with multiple offenses within 18 months even if none of the individual charges are serious enough to have warranted bail restrictions. The New York Post first reported the Hochul plan.
The governor's office didn't comment immediately — Hochul has said she wouldn't negotiate in public. But she has said several times she was open to negotiations and she was "looking at all policy options."
"These are conversations I'm having privately with leadership," Hochul said earlier this year, referring to the leaders of the State Senate and Assembly, whose colleagues would have to approve any changes. The Democrat also proposed other anti-crime measures, especially on gun violence and gun trafficking.
Hochul has been under pressure from New York Mayor Eric Adams, as well as almost all of the other Democratic and Republican candidates for governor, on bail. Even though Hochul has a large lead in polls and has raised more campaign money than every other candidate combined, analysts have said crime rates have become an issue for the incumbent.
Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who has been calling Hochul too soft on crime, said Thursday the governor’s plan was "copied and pasted" from proposals he made earlier in the campaign.
"Kathy Hochul continues to react, not lead," Suozzi said in a statement. "After so much violence and death she finally woke up to the crime crisis that has been plaguing New York since she took office. Her crime plan doesn’t go nearly far enough and what is in there is copied and pasted from my 15-point crime plan that I released months ago."
The Democratic and Republican primaries are in June.
"It’s taken far too long to get there, but it seems Governor Hochul has finally woken up to the fact that New York’s crime crisis is out of control," said Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski).
The state’s new bail law, adopted in 2019 and amended in 2020, eliminated the use of bail for detaining anyone on most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) have said critics are wrongly blaming the state law for a national spike in crime. They say a chief claim — people arrested but released because they can't be held on bail too often go on to commit other crimes — isn't backed up by facts.
They point to state statistics showing just 2% of misdemeanor defendants statewide were rearrested on a violent felony — meaning 98% weren’t. On Long Island, the numbers were lower: 1% were rearrested for a violent felony in Nassau County, less than 1% in Suffolk.
Advocates point out that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty and bail is supposed to be used to ensure defendants show up for court dates.
Stewart-Cousins noted lawmakers made the bail changes to prevent poorer defendants from sitting months or even years in jail as they await trial, while defendants whose families can post bail are released. She said the bail law is being blamed even when incidents happen that have no relation to the statute.
"We are at a point now where whatever happens, the people want to exploit the fact that we do not want to incarcerate people who are poor, everything becomes a matter of bail reform," Stewart-Cousins told reporters earlier this week.
A Heastie spokesman declined to comment Thursday.
An array of progressive groups Thursday called on the State Legislature to reject sweeping changes to the bail law. They said history shows increasing judicial discretion to set bail means a disproportionate share of poor and minority residents are detained in jail and that the new law is working.
"Bail reform has been widely successful, allowing our clients to stay in their communities with their families with no measurable impact on public safety," said Marie Ndiaye, supervising attorney of the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society, the organization that represents defendants who can't afford a lawyer.
Other planks of Hochul's plan include increasing funding for pretrial support services intended to prevent recidivism and expanding the use of the involuntary commitment statute to detain a person with mental illness who poses a danger to himself. Hochul repeatedly has said she would stand behind the fundamental premise behind the 2019 bail law — which was enacted when she was lieutenant governor and signed by then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — which was to address the disparate treatment of rich and poor defendants.
"One person goes to Rikers for three years because they couldn't post bail. Another person whose parents have money or they're living in the suburbs and they can head back after posting bail to their jobs, to school and a different life," Hochul said in January. Noting data spurred by the 2019 overhaul was still being gathered and analyzed, she added: "And I've also said if reforms are needed based on data that is still being gathered, I'm willing to have those conversations."
Bruce Gyory, a Democratic strategist who was an adviser to two governors, said it was "very good politics" for Hochul to propose bail changes before the issue picks up more traction. She said Hochul can make amendments while upholding the aim of the bail law, which was to make sure poor defendants aren't disproportionately hurt.
"People think there needs to be further adjustments to bail reform," Gyory said Thursday, citing polls. "The longer it hangs out there, the bigger chance you could lose an election."