Study: New York’s bail reform laws had little impact on crime

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ALBANY – Following years of contentious debate surrounding the state’s bail reform laws, and multiple legislative changes, a new study finds the bail reform laws had little impact on crime.

The study, published this month by Sishi Wu, a recent PhD recipient and a professor at the University at Albany’s School of Justice, found the jail population dropped from 2019 to 2020, which was one of the reform laws’ goals to help overpopulation in the state’s jails and prisons. During the same period, violent crime rose by 1% and murders increased by nearly 47% from 570 in 2019 to 836 in 2020. However, the study attributes the rise in violent crime largely to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar studies have echoed the latest study’s findings. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the U.S. firearm homicide rate increased nearly 35% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To account for the pandemic-related rise, the study examined crime data from other states and found similar increases in crime regardless of bail laws. With that comparison, the study found the bail reform laws led to 0.02 more murders, 6.16 more larcenies, 1.16 more motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 people per month — not a statistically significant increase. 

“We used data from the New York State index crimes, consisting of monthly crime counts for seven offenses: murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft,” Wu said. “Monthly crime data from other states were also collected from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program to create a control group to compare with New York,” Wu said in a statement. 

The state first passed its bail reform laws in 2019 and eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and some non-violent felony charges. The following year, state lawmakers passed an amendment to the laws rolling back some of the reforms, such as expanding the list of offenses eligible for cash bail. This year’s state budget, passed earlier this month, included further rollbacks of the state’s bail laws. The latest changes to bail reform will remove the “least-restrictive means” standard, which allows judges more discretion in withholding bail when they deem necessary.

“They need to hold violent criminals accountable, while still upholding our commitment to a justice system that is fair and accessible to all, and also ensures that poverty is never treated as a crime,” Hochul said earlier this month while announcing the changes.

Additionally, the state Senate passed a package of bills earlier this month to require annual training about bail for judges preceding over any criminal offense and a review of state data to find any judicial bias. Many studies have found cash-bail systems have largely negatively impacted Black and poor communities. 

By Ashley Hupfl

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