The Vera Institute of Justice on Governor Hochul’s Criminal Legal System Priorities

This month, Governor Kathy Hochul was sworn in to serve the Empire State as governor, becoming the first woman governor in New York’s history. ​We are heartened by her stated commitment to supporting criminal justice reform while advancing public safety, and applaud her choice of Senator Brian Benjamin -- a champion of bail reform, parole justice, and ending solitary confinement during his time in Albany -- to serve as her lieutenant governor. These measures have made New York State not only fairer and more just, especially for poor, Black and brown New Yorkers, but also safer. We look forward to working with Governor Hochul ​and her administration to implement criminal justice reform and defend against the inevitable fearmongering and backlash. In response to Governor Hochul's recent comments about bail reform, the Vera Institute of Justice issued the following statement:

Bail reform is working ​and New York must stay the course to implement these critical changes to the law. Before the passage of the state’s historic bail reforms in 2019, thousands of New Yorkers languished in jail without being convicted of a crime simply because they could not afford to pay bail. Bail reform had an immediate—and dramatic—impact on jail populations across New York State. Jail numbers fell by nearly one-third in a matter of months. The jail population went from more than 21,000 in March 2019, the month before bail reform passed, to less than 15,000 in February 2020, two months after the law went into effect. This means that people who in the past would have been in jail because they couldn’t afford bail were able to return to their families and their jobs while awaiting trial without negatively affecting public safety.

New York has demonstrated that pretrial release is not at odds with public safety. For example, last year, at the height of the pandemic, 1,500 people were released from New York City jails in response to COVID-19 health concerns and were re-arrested at lower rates than people discharged under normal circumstances. Also, New York’s continued investment in the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), the first-in-the-nation statewide legal defense program for immigrants in detention and facing deportation, is another example of the benefits of investing in freedom and family unity. With a lawyer, people in immigration proceedings are 3.5 times more likely to be released from detention and ten times more likely to prove the right to remain lawfully in the U.S., promoting strength and stability for all New Yorkers.

To build upon these successes, New York should commit to:

  1. Protecting and expanding bail reform by focusing on data-driven solutions and community needs.
  2. Investing in community-based public health resources proven to effectively prevent crime and strengthen public safety.
  3. Further decarcerating New York’s jails and prisons by ending immigration detention, limiting pretrial and post-conviction incarceration, aiding successful reentry through parole and sentencing reform, supporting alternatives to incarceration including community supports, and expanding access to legal defense for immigrants.
  4. Taking steps to end the criminalization of immigrants and prevent the use of New York resources for the purpose of federal immigration enforcement and detention. Instead, the state should invest in measures that keep families and communities together and promote freedom.

We look forward to uplifting these policy priorities in the months ahead.

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