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New York must not reverse progress on bail reform


Iman Abid and Ashley Gantt

This year, lawmakers answered the resounding call of many communities across the state to undo the harms inflicted by our pretrial system. For decades, thousands have been caged due to their poverty, denied access to basic evidence in their cases, and robbed of their due process protections.

In an attempt to address this, lawmakers passed bail reform to significantly reduce our reliance on money to determine a person’s liberty. Monroe County cannot afford to reverse course. Too many lives weigh in the balance.

In a report we published on bail practices, we found that from 2010 to 2014, close to 30,000 people were detained in Monroe County jail pretrial. White New Yorkers were almost twice as likely to be released as black New Yorkers after bail was set.

Therefore, the latest oped written by Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter is gravely concerning. First, he suggests that jailing poor people because they don’t have money is an effective way to keep our county safe. This is false and reprehensible. There is simply no evidence that supports the argument that money bail keeps communities safe. Studies have shown the opposite—that detaining someone pretrial actually increases the risk to public safety by increasing the risk of someone being charged with a new crime once they are eventually released.

Money bail pegs a person’s liberty to the size of their bank account. Court text reminders and pretrial services are more effective to ensure return to court. No New Yorker should have to risk losing their children, job, and housing to fight their case. We should not take seriously politicians who insist that criminalizing poverty is a form of justice.

Second, Baxter’s arguments suggest that stripping legally innocent people of their liberty is an appropriate response to addiction and homelessness. Warehousing people in cages never enhances someone’s health. To the contrary, the deteriorating effect that jails pose to people’s health is crystal clear. Too many people have died in jail due to conditions of confinement.

His argument only raises the need for the state and county to reinvest in community treatment-based programs and housing, not jails. Providing housing and support services is a proven sustained way to meet the needs of people. Our county sheriff is neither a medical care provider nor a housing provider, and should not be peddling the criminal system as a public health model.

Lawmakers must continue to listen to the resounding calls from community members and reduce our reliance on jails and end the criminalization of poverty. For only then will we achieve true safety and true justice. 

This piece originally appeared in Democrat & Chronicle

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