The Crime Issue - ‘Bail Reform’ and New York
Zeldin lost - so let's not fight the last war on public safety. Bail reform is working and should be extended. Recent political history shows us why.
The angry and relentless demagoguing of public safety by defeated Republican Lee Zeldin, an unrepentant MAGA extremist who rallied with the Oath Keepers and tried to illegally overturn an American election, has some New York Democrats twisting the dish towel in political uncertainty.
In the wake of a relatively close race for Governor, should we dial back hard-won reforms in New York State, achieved after decades of commitment and the hard work of activists and organizers who helped Democrats achieve a liberal super majority in Albany and pass a landmark legislative achievement?
Should we listen to conservative Democratic voices like Mayor Adams, who relentlessly and inaccurately link “bail reform” with the uptick in crime during the pandemic years? Should we run from the bloviating Aussie angst of the New York Post, which dedicated itself so stridently to defeating Kathy Hochul?
Obviously, the answer is no but I have a different theory of the political moment than I’ve seen written elsewhere. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first the basics.
Bail reform in New York State is an incredible policy triumph, one that makes this a much fairer and more just state to live in. Even with modest tweaks in 2020, the original 2019 reforms mostly stand in place - and they’re working very well indeed. The new law eliminated cash money bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies, and required police to issue court appearance tickets for low level offenses, rather than carting defendants off to jail. Those are the basics, though you can read more about it at the Brennan Center website. The results are amazing:
The Times Union reviewed state data on pretrial releases between July 2020 and June 2021, identifying nearly 100,000 cases where someone was released pretrial in a decision “related to the state’s changed bail laws.” Just 2 percent of those 100,000 cases led to a rearrest for a violent felony; of these, 429 cases led to a rearrest for a violent felony involving a firearm. Roughly one-fifth of all cases resulted in a rearrest for “any offense,” regardless of severity, such as a misdemeanor or nonviolent felony.
These findings are preliminary, and future researchers will certainly build on them. But as a first attempt to study the issue, the Times Union’s analysis suggests that as many as 80,000 people may have avoided jail incarceration due to cash bail because of the 2019–20 reforms and went on to pose no documented threat to public safety.
Let’s repeat that: no documented threat to public safety.
Let’s also be clear: crime rose rapidly from 2019 to 2020, spurred by the social chaos of the pandemic. The numbers there were real, and while they have leveled off (or declined) public safety concerns by voters should not be discounted or dismissed. In fact, we’re in the midst of a vast public mental health crisis, and the lack of both political will and facilities means that we often see mentally ill people roaming public places, sometimes sad and harmless, and occasionally deranged and violent. The randomness of this kind of crime stirs legitimate fear for people who live in cities - and less legitimate fear among people who hate cities.
Enter Lee Zeldin.
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Cynical, extremist and personally nasty to the core, Zeldin rode the MAGA wave and built a following among far right groups on Long Island. As the New York Republican Party turned radical during the rise of Trump, Zeldin planned a gubernatorial campaign steeped in fear and resentment. Buoyed by vast millions of outside money, he won the nomination and rolled out the most extremist campaign for Governor any major party has ever waged in New York. The media cheered him on, and bought his narrative on crime without much question or concern - a horserace was good for business.
Zeldin’s campaign took to a simple message of fear. His people screamed at rallies. “Crime! Crime! Crime!” [see below]
The race tightened, the media hinted, there were lawn signs everywhere! And then…
Powered by organized labor, Black voters, and young women who opposed Zeldin’s hardcore stance on abortion, Kathy Hochul defeated Zeldin by a solid six points. While some analysts obsessed on how “close” the race was, Hochul was only a couple of points behind other statewide candidates, including Senator Chuck Schumer and Attorney General Letitia James, who had token opposition. And Democrats also kept their solid majorities in the state legislature. “Crime!” did indeed build something of a wave - particularly on fearful Long Island, home to two of the safest counties in America - but that wave slapped helplessly on the beach, and rolled back out to sea.
So here we are - do Democrats adjust, move right, ditch reform - all to fight the last war? Which we won?
I don’t think so. To my deeply experienced political eye, the Zeldin mini-wave is a generational opportunity that the Republicans blew. A more moderate GOP nominee might have seriously challenged Hochul. The snarling “Lee Harvey” character we’re all glad to get rid of? Couldn’t get it done. And more importantly, won’t ever get it done.
Which is really important - because I think the proper comparison politically for New York’s successful bail reform is Obamacare. The longer it’s in place, and the better the results over time - with cost savings to the state and municipalities, not to mention the human lives literally saved - the harder it is to repeal. People get used to the benefits. And politicians, even snarling right-wing demagogues, get tired of losing.
That means that not only should New York protect bail reform in the next two years, we should move to perfect and extend it - just like the ACA. Large-scale reforms often need tweaking. Our bail laws are no different. Plus, we need significant changes to pre-trial detention in general, and continued advances on conviction integrity, police reform, right to counsel, alternatives to incarceration, college in prison, and more other progressive policies that can change our disgracefully cruel and expensive system.
Remember, we still live in a country that has just five percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its prisoners. The lessons from New York and Lee Zeldin’s extreme demagoguery couldn’t be clearer - he failed, advance the ball.
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Holy fuck. Did you say bail reform is working you stupid libtarded fag! You fuckin dumbass.. hopefully these animals fuck you up