Legal Aid Society

Protect New York's Pretrial Reforms, Raise the Age

Governor Hochul, under the guise of a public safety plan, is attempting to undo New York State’s historic 2019 pretrial reforms to bail, discovery, and speedy trials. She is also seeking changes that will result in more children tried as adults. Despite the evidence that these reforms have not undermined public safety, the Governor is peddling a false equivalency between these reforms and a rise in crime.

Dishonoring Kalief Browder’s Legacy

Governor Hochul’s proposal specifically seeks to gut Kalief’s Law, transformative legislation directed at ensuring that New Yorkers do not languish in cages while awaiting trial. The law was enacted in remembrance of Kalief Browder who spent years at Rikers Island for allegedly stealing a backpack. During his incarceration, Browder was subjected to physical abuse and excessive solitary confinement, and would later take his own life.

Discovery goes hand in hand with speedy trials. Prior to discovery reform prosecutors routinely withheld evidence from the accused while forcing pleas, which led to many wrongful convictions. The 2019 reform simply required the sharing of evidence by default between the prosecution and defense on a reasonable timeline. Prosecutors have already proven that they can not be trusted with the power to choose when or how to disclose evidence, but Hochul’s plan would allow them to do just that.

Overturning Bail Reform

The Governor’s plan would create the most regressive bail law in New York State’s history, making the statute even worse than before 2019’s reforms were enacted. The plan adds a “dangerousness” provision, something the State has never had. This would allow judges greater discretion when considering bail, but such allowances have proven time and again to be discriminatory and inevitably result in the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Brown communities.

The Governor wants to make “repeat arrestees” eligible for bail, but that discretion already exists within the current law’s “harm plus harm” provision. She also wants to expand bail-eligible charges to more low-level allegations, but this proposal would only encourage the jailing of more New Yorkers facing charges that rarely end in criminal convictions— let alone jail sentences.

The new proposal defies the constitutional standard that laws curtailing a fundamental liberty must be “least restrictive” in achieving the stated goal, in the case of bail making sure individuals return for court appearances. The data on bail reform is clear, the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers on pretrial release do not commit new crimes and return for future court appearances.

Undoing Raise The Age Protections

Similarly, Raise The Age has not contributed to a spike in violence. It was not until the devastation brought upon by COVID-19, almost two years after the implementation of Raise The Age, that gun offenses began to rise. New York was one of the last states to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in order to meet scientific and moral standards. The law gives Family and Criminal courts shared jurisdiction over some cases involving 16-17 year olds instead of automatically prosecuting all their charges in adult court.

Governor Hochul’s plan would send more young kids to adult court to face the adult criminal system, which has proven to be unsafe. Children should have their cases dealt with in family court, which has a system tailored to youth needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly called on courts to stop jailing youths. Doing so will not address crime, but will instead exacerbate existing problems for low-income, Black and Brown youth.

Stand Against Regressive Rollbacks

Tell your state legislator to reject the Governor’s “public safety” proposal.

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