New York’s bail reform law, passed in April 2019, updated state pretrial laws that had remained largely untouched since 1971. Potentially one of the most far-reaching pieces of bail reform legislation passed in recent history, the law includes provisions that mandate pretrial release, limit conditions of pretrial supervision, and impose more affordable forms of bail. The new legislation went into effect in January 2020, but legislators passed additional rollbacks the following April, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new law has the potential to impact the criminal justice system in a host of different ways. Certain provisions, including the expanded use of appearance tickets, mandatory pretrial release for the vast majority of misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges, and the consideration of ability to pay in cases that still qualify for bail, will likely have an impact on the number of people in jail.

GJNY will release a series of reports examining the impacts of bail reform on jail incarceration, pretrial release, bail setting and posting, and case dispositions, as well as any unintended consequences. By collecting a wide range of administrative data including arrest, pretrial release, court, and jail data, we explore the reform’s effect on various criminal justice system outcomes. Qualitative data collected through court observations and interviews will also help us understand how each provision of the new law is understood and integrated by different court actors and incorporated in their practices. The study will further incorporate voices of both court actors and people directly impacted by the law to understand their experiences and perception of its efficacy.

This project will provide state and local policymakers, practitioners, and the public with a clear understanding of the efficacy and shortcomings of these reforms. We will also draw lessons for a national audience, particularly other states considering pretrial reform and closely watching to learn from New York’s experience.