Mayor Adams Misrepresents Bail Laws In CNN Interview

Adams falsely blamed bail reform for a sensational alleged assault in New York. Even though a judge set bail, the mayor misrepresented the effect of bail reform on the case and advocated for mass pretrial detention despite ongoing human rights violations and deaths at Rikers Island.

Fact Check: False

The Briefing

Mayor Adams took to CNN to falsely blame bail reform for a sensational alleged assault in New York. Despite the clear fact that a judge set bail in the case, Mayor Adams misrepresented the effect of bail reform on the case and advocated for mass pretrial detention despite ongoing human rights violations and deaths at Rikers Island. 


Bail reform had nothing to do with this case. The man charged in this case was not rearrested on pretrial release, nor was he released under bail reform. A judge had discretion to set bail in for the assault-related charges and chose to set bail at $7,500. Those charges are bail-eligible now, and were bail-eligible before bail reform was enacted. Bail reform only affected some low-level crimes. 

Bail reform did not create a "catch and release" system

Still, Mayor Adams and other opponents of pretrial justice took the opportunity to criticize bail reform. In an interview on CNN, the mayor answered a question about this case by referencing bail reform as a “catch, release, repeat system that is really playing out all across the country.” This statement is false in a number of ways. First, the idea that bail reform has created a “catch, release, repeat system” in New York is completely false. The New York City jail system is overcrowded and dangerous. Nearly 6,000 people are incarcerated on Rikers Island right now, the vast majority of whom are presumed legally innocent. One day after Mayor Adams’ comments, a 39-year-old man named Edgardo Mejias died at Rikers. Mejias was the 19th person to die in the New York City jail system in 2022 and was reportedly held on $15,000 bail for nonviolent charges. 

Secondly, there are very few jurisdictions that have passed bail reform – for the vast majority of Americans, the cash bail system continues to separate legally innocent low-income people from their money while those with means can walk free. Moreover, in places where bail reform has been enacted, it has been successful. Mayor Adams could look across the Hudson River for one example; Harris and Los Angeles Counties are other jurisdictions where increases in pretrial release created more freedom with no cost to public safety.

Adams undermined the presumption of innocence

Later in the interview, Adams suggested that New York’s modest criminal justice reforms “protect the guilty.” In assuming everyone who is arrested for an alleged crime is guilty, Adams is dispensing with a bedrock principle of the criminal legal system: the presumption of innocence. He appeared to advocate for mass indefinite pretrial detention for people charged with alleged violent offenses, mirroring language used by Chicago Mayor Lori Lighfoot earlier this year that drew widespread criticism

Over 40 percent of people charged with felonies between 2017 and 2021 eventually had their cases dismissed, and 87 percent of people charged with a felony in that time period were not ultimately sentenced to jail or prison. In Adams’ world, all of these people should have been sent to Rikers indefinitely, with no questions asked.

Bail reform is a successful public policy

Fortunately, New Yorkers live in a world with bail reform. After bail reform, nearly 200,000 New Yorkers who would have otherwise been unable to buy their freedom were able to spend time with their families, keep their jobs, and maintain their freedom while presumed legally innocent. Taxpayers were saved hundreds of millions of dollars that would have been otherwise spent on unnecessary mass pretrial incarceration. Meanwhile, rearrests for alleged violent felonies in New York remain exceptionally rare after bail reform. And in New York City, a higher percentage of defendants have returned to court since bail reform than during a four-year period before the law went into effect. 

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