New York’s recent bail reform law, which was passed in April 2019 and amended on July 2, 2020, was expected to reduce the footprint of jail incarceration by limiting the use of money bail. The new law mandated pretrial release for the vast majority of nonviolent charges and required that judges consider a person’s ability to pay bail.

A comprehensive impact evaluation is necessary to understand the successes and limitations of these reforms, as well as their unintended consequences. The Vera Institute of Justice is conducting a three-and-a-half-year study to examine how front-end reforms at arrest and arraignment impact back-end outcomes, including the use of jails for pretrial detention and other custody types.

The jail brief series explores the impact of bail reform on jail populations by examining statewide incarceration trends between January 2019 and June 2021. The briefs also explore the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on jail admissions and populations.

The five-site deep dive explores how five counties—Albany, Broome, Erie, Tompkins, and Ulster—implemented bail reform laws in their courts, through analysis of administrative data, court observations, and system actor interviews.

Key Takeaway

Bail reform led to a substantial reduction in jail incarceration, driven mainly by a decline in pretrial admissions for low-level and nonviolent charges. The reforms limited the use of money bail, but prosecutors and judges relied on money bail where still allowed and rarely considered ability to pay. Despite the decreased incarceration rate, existing racial disparities may have been aggravated in New York City and statewide jails.

Key Facts