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New York Makes Historic Strides Towards Pretrial Justice,
But the Fight to End Money Bail and Protect Due Process Continues
#FREEnewyork Coalition of Directly Impacted Leaders and Advocates,
Calls on Elected Leaders to Keep Promise, End Race- and Poverty-Based Jailing
and Protect Constitutional Rights for All
Albany, New York – With the passage of bail, discovery and speedy trial legislation in the state budget, the #FREEnewyork campaign – a statewide coalition led by directly impacted people and endorsed by over 150 organizations – celebrated the gains made by years of unwavering advocacy, but made clear that the fight to end money bail and protect due process continues.
Together, the three pretrial bills will: eliminate money bail for most misdemeanor and low-level felony charges; require prosecutors to turn over all evidence 15 days after first appearance and prior to any plea deal; and address some of the speedy trial loopholes that cause New Yorkers to languish in jail for months or years pretrial.
With the passage of discovery and speedy trial reform, New York has finally instituted meaningful checks on the power of prosecutors to indefinitely delay a case, withhold evidence and coerce plea deals. However, further legislation is needed to address court delays and truly guarantee the right to a speedy trial. And while newly passed bail legislation will protect many from pretrial jailing, it is a far cry from the transformative bail reform New Yorkers demand and deserve.
In the past year, New York State Assembly Speaker Heastie, Governor Cuomo, Senator Gianaris and other elected officials have repeatedly and publicly called for the complete elimination of money bail. They did so because they understand that money bail is fundamentally unfair and coerces plea deals, and that its elimination is an urgent issue of racial justice. While this bill eradicates some of the pretrial system’s harms, it fails to eliminate money as a determiner of freedom or provide sufficient due process protections for people at risk of pretrial detention.
By allowing courts to impose money bail on people accused of many offenses, this bill does not protect people from abuse of power by prosecutors and judges – and permits the continued unnecessary, poverty-based jailing of people in our communities. In particular, people accused of many felonies are left behind by this bill’s reforms.
The #FREEnewyork coalition honors the efforts of all those who have been tireless in the pursuit of pretrial justice – impacted leaders, advocates, and legislators – and we vow to continue on until New York State ends money bail, eliminates all racially-biased mechanisms for detention and protects due process and pretrial liberty for all New Yorkers. With three months left in the legislative session, we must begin this work at once.
Quotes from members of the FREEnewyork Coalition:
“JustLeadershipUSA is tremendously proud of the directly impacted organizers and leaders that over the past three years, have changed the landscape in Albany and across New York State to make pretrial overhaul possible. With the passage of discovery and speedy trial reform, New York has finally instituted meaningful checks on the power of prosecutors to indefinitely delay a case, withhold evidence and coerce plea deals. However, the fight to end money bail and protect the constitutional and human rights of all New Yorkers must continue. As we move forward, we will center the idea that equal justice must not be charge-based – but guaranteed to all people, protecting the presumption of innocence for everyone, including those accused of felonies. JLUSA led the launch of the #FREEnewyork campaign motivated by closure of Rikers and with the desire to reverse the jail crisis across the state – we will not stop until we achieve the outcomes our communities need. With our partners, we will continue to challenge structural racism and resulting harm from lack of community investments to abuse of power by police, prosecutors and courts.” DeAnna Hoskins, President and CEO, JustLeadershipUSA
“We didn’t get all that we wanted, but what passed today in the budget is historic for New York State and will make a real difference for our people. Our elected officials in Albany deserve credit for getting this done. The discovery bill will be the best in the country and we will need to keep working over the next couple of years until we totally eradicate the use of money bail. We will keep fighting to secure due process and to make the system more fair for all New Yorkers.” Roger Clark, Community Leader, VOCAL-NY
“Finally after decades of fighting tirelessly for the dignity of New Yorkers, the State has taken a historic stride toward a fairer criminal legal system by reforming our bail, speedy trial and discovery bills. These accomplishments could not have been achieved without the leadership of directly impacted New Yorkers who long shouldered these unjust laws – including Kalief Browder, who died far too young. They are the real heroes that we all must hail in this moment. Our laws have destroyed lives and communities, coerced guilty pleas and entrenched racial bias. But today we have taken a step in the direction toward correcting the wrongs of our past. We wholeheartedly hail the decision not to cave to law enforcement by introducing racially biased dangerousness determinations into our statute, and we applaud that, under the new provisions, many people charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies will be returned to their families and communities without having to buy their freedom. However, we are holding the legislatures to their promise to end cash bail for all offenses in New York State. We look forward to working with our grassroots allies and Albany to see bail reform through to the end. We will not rest until the presumption of innocence is truly provided to everyone.” Tina Luongo, Attorney in Charge, Criminal Defense Practice, Legal Aid Society.
“The passage of today’s legislation is an important mile marker in addressing our state’s discriminatory and unfair pretrial jail and court practices. We are pleased that the legislature has finally confronted New York’s unjust bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws. Although impactful, these reforms do not fully realize the constitutional promise that every person be treated as innocent until proven guilty. We won’t stop fighting for justice until no New Yorker is criminalized for their poverty.” Nicole Triplett, Policy Counsel, New York Civil Liberties Union
“Champions for justice fought tooth-and-nail for long overdue reforms to New York’s pretrial system. The reforms won on bail, discovery, and speedy trial represent an important step toward ending the crisis of mass incarceration, and beginning to roll back the rampant discrimination of a pretrial system designed to decimate communities of color. People are no longer blindfolded, countless lives will be saved and jails across the state will shrink. However, this victory remains incomplete. We expect Albany to make good on their commitment to eliminate money bail as soon as possible – and as we made clear this year – we will not accept discriminatory constructs like “dangerousness” in return.” Erin George, Criminal Justice Campaigns Director, Citizen Action of New York
“Finally the tireless work of directly impacted people advocating for the decarceration of the state’s jails has pushed New York legislators to take action to reform bail, discovery and speedy trial laws. This is an historic first step forward towards a more just criminal justice system but we will not stop working until New York State ends money bail and the unjust incarceration of our communities. While we celebrate however, we will not forget the role the district attorneys across the state and senators on Long Island played to hinder this critical legislation. They will be held accountable by their communities and we will not stop organizing until they do what is right.” Thern Shivers, Long Island chapter member, New York Communities for Change
“We are giving up some stuff, but we got enough to get a bill signed. I’ll take the 90% and we will keep fighting for the rest. When I was arrested and sent to Rikers Island, I didn’t see the streets for 18 months, while the District Attorney withheld all the exculpatory evidence. Under this new discovery bill, I believe I would have gotten out after 15 days. What we’ve been asking for is a fair chance in court, for prosecutors to have to actually show that they have some proof of a valid case, and this gets us closer that. Prosecutors are going to have to do more honest work now to prove a case, instead of just selling people out.” Darryl Herring, Community Leader, VOCAL-NY
“We applaud the tireless work of advocates and directly-impacted people across the state that led us to this moment. We also recognize the efforts of leaders in Albany who worked very hard to get this package over the finish line. This legislation will bring a significant number of incarcerated New Yorkers back home to await their trials with their families where they belong. However, it is critical to acknowledge that this legislation did not end money bail and thus will not end the criminalization of poverty across the state. We look forward to building upon this turning point and continuing the fight to end wealth-based detention for all.” Rena Karefa-Johnson, New York State Director for Criminal Justice Reform, FWD.us
“Advocates across New York State should be proud of the pretrial reforms won in Albany. The bail, speedy trial and discovery legislation should lead to substantial decarceration in New York. Unfortunately the bail legislation in particular did not go nearly far enough. Based on false premises and as a result of unnecessary compromises, our elected officials went back on their promises and did not eliminate cash bail. While the legislation means that fewer people will be jailed for the inability to afford bail, justice and common sense demand that no one be imprisoned for the lack of money. These half measures will continue to punish and harm our most vulnerable neighbors, and rob presumptively innocent New Yorkers of the right to due process. Moreover, the compromises were completely unnecessary to ensure public safety. We will continue to demand the full and complete elimination of money bail and the end to pretrial incarceration.” Peter Goldberg, Executive Director, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund
“Thanks to the commitment and vision of directly impacted leaders, New York’s bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws are improving dramatically. These reforms are significant, but they are just the beginning. As long as our neighbors are subject to wealth-based jailing, New Yorkers of faith and conscience will continue to organize and demand a complete end to money bail and stronger due process protections for all.” Rev. Emily McNeill, Executive Director, Labor-Religion of NYS.
“While the fight continues in order to fully eradicate wealth-based detention in New York, the pretrial reforms passed by Albany today represent a truly historic shift away from the racist policies that have driven mass incarceration in our state and across our country for decades, and toward the bold reforms demanded by communities who are most impacted by the criminal punishment system. Thousands of New Yorkers will now have a fairer shot at justice and be spared from the violence of our jails, and the momentum to close wretched relics like Rikers Island grows stronger and stronger.” Kerry Kennedy, President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
“Today, New York has taken a bold step towards making our criminal legal system more transparent, fair, and just. Advocates and directly impacted people led the charge, and the crucial support of Assembly Speaker Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Governor Cuomo provided a striking reminder of what progressive government can achieve. With the repeal of the Blindfold Law, our clients will no longer be kept in the dark by a law that hides the evidence in their cases. Speedy trial reforms will eliminate some of the most egregious practices in our system that deny our clients their constitutional right to have their day in court. And the new bail law will guarantee freedom to thousands of people across the state, allowing them to retain jobs and support families while they await trial. But there is still much work to do. We must ensure that court congestion does not undermine our clients’ right to a speedy trial. We also know that pretrial detention is fundamentally at odds with the presumption of innocence, so we must continue to fight for comprehensive bail reform that ensures robust due process and eliminates wealth- and race-based detention for everyone.” Justine Olderman, Executive Director of The Bronx Defenders
“The Westchester County social justice community applauds the unwavering advocacy of directly impacted people and organizations across New York State that have led to this historic package of bail, discovery and speedy trial legislation passed in the state budget. We will continue to work together for a complete end to money bail and an end to poverty-based detention for everyone, as well as an end to the remaining loopholes that violate our constitutional right to a speedy trial.” Nada Khader, Director, WESPAC Foundation`
“New York State lawmakers are finally listening to the rallying cries of families, individuals, and advocates across the state calling for reforms to cash bail, speedy trial, and discovery. We may not have received everything we wanted, but now we know the state is willing to engage in real reforms that eliminate wealth- based detention. This monumental change is one more step to stopping cycles of crime and poverty for families over generations.” Jordyn Rosenthal, Senior Associate of Policy & Advocacy, College & Community Fellowship
“New York took an important step today towards improving its broken, unfair, pre-trial system but there is still much more to do. The reform package continues to allow the use of money bail in discriminatory ways that can harm poor people. At the same time, it ends the use of money bail in many cases and improves discovery and speedy trial rules in ways that should have positive impacts. Though this reform package is not perfect, it should reduce the number of people detained pre-trial and is an important step in the right direction.” Laura Pitter, Deputy Director, Human Rights Watch’s US Program.
“We are grateful that, thanks to the tireless leadership of directly impacted people, New York has made historic strides toward justice by passing bail, discovery, and speedy trial reforms in the budget. While these bills are a significant step forward, our Jewish values of fairness and equality for all compel us to keep fighting until New York passes stronger due process protections and fully ends money bail.” Jeanette Walowitz, Volunteer Leader, Bend the Arc Jewish Action
“The significant changes to New York’s criminal justice system on cash bail, speedy trial and discovery reform will have a positive and meaningful impact in the lives of families across New York State. We must expand on this historic step towards ending mass incarceration by tackling the school-to-prison pipeline immediately after this budget is passed. The legislature must pass the Judge Judith Kaye Safe and Supportive Schools Act (A.1981/S.0767) to protect students from the overuse of suspensions that push kids out of schools and into the criminal justice system. Combining these new changes to our criminal justice system with a commitment to creating a nurturing and positive school climate is necessary in order to build a holistic approach to decarceration.” Jasmine Gripper, Legislative Director, Alliance for Quality Education
“New Yorkers in every corner of the state just received the promise of an upgrade of their civil and human rights. In addition to the important reforms to bail, speedy trial and discovery, the budget also promotes reintegrative justice by including a comprehensive re-entry package that will improve outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals.” David Condliffe, Executive Director of the Center for Community Alternatives
“Today we have taken great steps towards addressing our unjust Criminal Justice System. The discovery & speedy trial reform that we passed today would have prevented my child from being intimidated into taking a plea deal. However, what passed today was not the transformative bail reform we hope for, and we will hold our electeds to their promise to eliminate cash bail. We will continue to fight to ensure that all of our family members are guaranteed their freedom even if they can’t afford to buy it.” Lisa Royer, Community Organizer, Rise Up Kingston