Bail reform has been one of the most significant public policy achievements in recent American history. Research from places including New York, where state legislators voted to end cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies starting in 2020, tells the story of this success. Yet too many Democrats are running away from the issue while pushing the narrative that it’s a toxic development that cost the party seats in the midterms.
Despite police, county executives and national pundits falsely labeling bail reform a disaster, in the few places like New York state that have tried it, bail reform has been a win for freedom. It has allowed tens of thousands of people to fight their charges while keeping their jobs and housing and supporting their loved ones, and the pressure of pretrial detention that all too often pushes people to plead guilty to go home. Bail reform has been a win for fiscal responsibility, saving taxpayers millions of dollars by avoiding the costs of unnecessary mass detention. And bail reform has also proved that you can maximize freedom while not endangering public safety.
Research has established no connection between bail reform and any increase in crime. In Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston, a legal settlement has prohibited most people charged with low-level offenses from being detained pretrial since 2019. A robust study of hundreds of thousands of cases conducted by the nonpartisan Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice found that when people were released instead of detained pretrial in the county, the likelihood of rearrest over three years actually dropped by more than 6%.
At the same time, New York City has remained secure even though headlines could make one think otherwise. The Big Apple is one of the safest cities in the U.S. Of its five boroughs, Staten Island, Manhattan and Queens are among the safest 15 counties in the U.S. Nassau County, which includes western Long Island — where 64 mayors banded together in a misguided call for the repeal of bail reform — has twice since the law’s implementation been ranked the safest place to live in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The county’s own police department found no connection between bail reform and rearrests.
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