On March 6, 14 prosecutors from across the country urged New York State’s leadership to pursue a complete overhaul of the state’s pretrial detention policy.
In a letter, the prosecutors called on Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders of the state legislature to eliminate money bail—a system requiring defendants to post an arbitrarily assigned amount that will be returned to them upon appearance in court—for most cases. Generally, the prosecutors recommended adopting “a presumption that people should be released pretrial for all but the most serious offenses.“
The 14 prosecutors continue to support detaining people who “pose a specific, clear and credible threat to the physical safety of the community, or who are a risk of intentionally evading their court dates.”
The letter reasons that “safety, not wealth, should be the defining feature of the pretrial justice system.” It is well known that cash bail targets poor people and people of color; according to a key 2016 Prison Policy Initiative study, “most people who are unable to meet bail fall within the poorest third of society.” The prosecutors note that detaining people can devastate their lives, causing issues from loss of employment to missed rent payments, which in turn boost their likelihood of needing to make money illegally.
Extending far beyond the defendant, the economic injustice of cash bail destabilizes the person’s family and friends who end up posting the money, as the prosecutors point out. The letter predicts that transforming the money bail system would “create positive ripple effects for families and communities across New York.”
Perhaps surprisingly, only two prosecutors from New York jurisdictions—Eric Gonzalez of Brooklyn and David Soares of Albany County—signed onto the letter. The four other district attorneys of New York City—predictably including Staten Island DA Michael E. McMahon—were not listed.
The list of co-signers is something of a Who’s Who of relatively progressive prosecutors, including Rachel Rollins of Suffolk County, Massachussetss; Philadelphia’s Larry Krasner; Kim Foxx of Cook County, Illinois; and Wesley Bell of St. Louis, among others.
Krasner announced in February 2018 that his jurisdiction would stop seeking monetary bail from defendants in many low-level felony and misdemeanor cases. A recently published paper demonstrated that there were no “significant adverse consequences” of this move.
The letter, which you can view below, comes as the New York State legislature continues to debate how to implement bail reform—and ahead of Governor Cuomo releasing his budget, which may serve as a vehicle to implement criminal justice reforms, including overhauling pretrial detention.
Photograph: Diana Robinson via Flickr
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the DA of Albany County as Eric Soares; his name is David Soares.