ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Governor Kathy Hochul is proposing a few tweaks to bail reform laws. If approved, these proposals would be the third change since 2019.
One of the tweaks has to do with how judges handle pretrial conditions.
The governor says this is less about crime rates, and more about a “deficiency” she’s hearing from some judges and law enforcement officers.
The concern is for repeat offenders – and a specific criteria judges have to abide by, while setting terms for bail.
“We realized judges are telling us, that they don’t have the clarity they need to have, when someone is before them, and meets the standards of being bail eligible,” she said.
Her proposal includes eliminating what’s called a, “Least Restrictive Means” measure; a requirement for judges when setting pretrial conditions, for qualifying offenses.
“Maybe they have to wear an ankle monitor, or restrictions on where they can go, who they interact with,” said Assemblyman Josh Jensen.
Jensen supports the change among other lawmakers, like Steven Hawley, but said it will likely spark intense debate in the legislature.
The two say there’s been too many stories in the news about repeat offenses.
Hawley describes an instance where a 16 year-old was released after a gunpoint carjacking towards his relative.
“The very next day the same thing happened,” said Hawley. “We need to give judges back their ability to do what they’re charged with doing, and that’s being able to determine the dangerousness of an individual and a crime that is being committed against a society.”
On the other hand, Kevin Stadelmaier, First Deputy Defender in Erie County Assigned Counsel Program – said these proposals will only incarcerate more indigent, potentially innocent defendants.
“All they need to do is say, qualifying offense? Okay – you’re going to jail that’s it. Now they don’t have to send them to jail, but it will make them vastly easier to do it.”
He said it’s important to note judges can already determine things like flight risk.
“Bail reform has been, basically in a nutshell – the most successful criminal justice reform initiative in New York State in perhaps New York State history,” he said. “Economically, it’s kept people employed, families together.”
Stadelmaier said there is no direct connection with any rise in crime to bail reform, crediting a January 2021 study by the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
But Hochul said it’s something that should be tweaked anyways, amid concerns from city mayors and police departments.
The interviewees we spoke with on Friday all agreed, there is a place for bail reform in general, and more should be done to tackle the root causes of crime.