Did you know that on any given day, about 1,000 men and women reside in Monroe County jails awaiting trial? And 46 percent of them were arrested on misdemeanor charges. 

Why are they there? Because they can’t afford to make bail. Over time, a two-tier system has developed in New York’s bail system. Those who can afford to make bail are set free, leaving our jails full of people who have yet to be proved guilty of any crime, other than that of being poor.

Low-income defendants can spend months, sometimes years in jail, awaiting trial, a violation of their Constitutional right to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Studies show that pretrial detention can also unfairly effect trial outcomes: A defendant held in jail pretrial is four times more likely to be found guilty and three times more likely to receive a longer jail sentence than a defendant released on his own recognizance.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing a bail reform package that would include the elimination of bail for anyone facing misdemeanor or nonviolent felony charges (e.g., identity theft, third-degree possession of marijuana). Defendants deemed to pose a danger to others or a flight risk could still be held in jail, with due process. 

Bail reform is not only fair; it would save a significant amount of taxpayer money. It costs $60 per day to keep a person in pretrial detention. The cost of supervising defendants through pretrial services–which includes linking them with services, such as drug rehabilitation treatment, and ensuring defendants show up for trial–costs $7.37 per day.

If this bill makes sense to you, please contact State Senators Joseph Robach (2300 W. Ridge Road, Rochester , NY 14626;Phone: (585) 225-3650; email: robach@nysenate.gov) and Richard Funke (230 Packett’s Landing, Fairport , NY 14450; Phone: (585) 223-1800; email: funke@nysenate.gov to let them know you support Cuomo’s bail reform proposal.

Interested in learning more? Check out these websites: https://www.ny.gov/programs/restoring-fairness-new-yorks-criminal-justice-system; https.//www.justleadershipusa.org/freenewyork/ and https://www.vera.org/state-of-incarceration

Sources for this blog: The New York Times (Jan. 15, 2018) and a Feb. 12 public information meeting on bail reform held at Asbury First United Methodist Church and co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Rochester area, Metro Justice, the Genesee Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Susan B. Anthony Center at the University of Rochester.