FWD.us Statement on Shock at Rolling Back Bail Reform During Pandemic

ALBANY, NY – FWD.us New York State Director of Criminal Justice Reform Rena Karefa-Johnson issued the following statement on the importance of protecting bail reform during the COVID-10 pandemic:

“We applaud the state’s commitment to public health and the Governor’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, his recent comments regarding bail reform contrast sharply with his efforts to stem the spread of the deadly virus. In a time of a national crisis, policymakers should not be spending their time trying to put 6,000 New Yorkers back in jail. During a global pandemic, spending this time on unnecessary legislation that would expose thousands more New Yorkers to dangerous, unsanitary jails like Rikers Island is the exact opposite of public safety.

“People locked up in America's jails and prisons are unable to access even the most basic medical care, and cannot practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus. And, it’s no secret that most jails and prisons have struggled to meet very basic hygiene standards.

“The historic 2019 bail reforms prohibited pretrial jailing for the majority of people charged in New York, and already, 6,000 fewer New Yorkers are in jail on any given day. This is a tremendous achievement. The rollbacks currently under consideration would open up jail as a possibility in most of these cases and rely on discretion from system actors to determine when pretrial jailing should be used. These same system actors used their discretion to unnecessarily jail tens of thousands of New Yorkers before the bail reforms were enacted. Black and brown New Yorkers paid the highest costs for that discretion then and would stand to shoulder disproportionate harm from rollbacks that re-introduce discretion now. Only now, with COVID-19, the costs would be higher than ever before.

“We must preserve the historic reforms passed in 2019 and keep as many New Yorkers as possible safe during this pandemic. Controversial changes to this historic law should not be jammed through in a bare-bones budget that has been necessarily fast-tracked to meet an emergency public health crisis.

“Governor, much of your leadership on COVID-19 has been laudable but we urge you not to insert politics into a pandemic.”

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