It is clear that the New York State Senate is hoping to jail its way out of mass incarceration. What they are proposing is not simply a tweak, but a massive step backwards from the old law New York, even allowing remand without bail on misdemeanor allegations. Their proposal is not “progressive” despite their assertions.
The Senate is doubling down on the race and class injustices they sought to help fix last year, now making pretrial freedom contingent on past criminalization and requiring judges to predict a person’s future behavior before they have been convicted of a crime, all of which will only perpetuate the New Jim Crow. We have seen that judges are not always impartial arbiters capable of merely calling balls and strikes. They bring prejudices and political considerations to the table, and under the Senate’s proposal would be given wide latitude to jail a person without the possibility of pretrial release.
Fundamentally, the Senate proposal seeks to redefine pre-trial detention as a tool of public safety when in reality it will only breed violence, despair, and a greater likelihood of being trapped in the cycle of arrests and incarceration. Democrats in the Senate are caving to pressure from pro-carceral lobbying groups, rightwing activists, and the GOP, all of whom have engaged in a misinformation campaign in an attempt to maintain the status quo of mass incarceration. Bail reform was intended to end the warehousing of people, mostly poor people of color, prior to any determination of guilt in their case. Put simply, that goal is being met, and it is not what opponents of reform want.
The laws that were passed after months of consideration and debate were in direct response to the stories such as that of Kalief Browder, who spent three years on Rikers Island over a false allegation of stealing a backpack. The trauma he experienced while caged for years without a trial killed him -- the rollbacks that the Senate is proposing would seal the fate of many others who find themselves in the same situation. This is a knee jerk, reactionary proposal that prioritizes politics over people, and it cannot be allowed.