A coalition of criminal justice reform groups on Wednesday is expected to push against any changes the state’s new cashless bail and discovery law changes.
The coalition, Justice Roadmap, urged top lawmakers in the state Assembly and Senate, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, to avoid “horse trading” on the issue in the budget negotiations.
“We know that issues of justice are too often used as bargaining chips in negotiations over the State Budget. We refuse to allow this to happen,” the letter states. “To that end, we call on you to not rollback or make regressive changes to recently enacted reforms but instead take further steps towards justice.”
Coalition member groups are planning a news conference with lawmakers in Albany on Wednesday morning to further push back.
The letter comes in the middle of budget season in Albany, and as Democratic lawmakers in both chambers are under pressure to make changes to the new cash bail law that ended the requirement for defendants charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
Law enforcement officials, as well as Republican lawmakers, have called for changes after the release of people facing charges like robbery have subsequently been re-arrested.
Some Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills that would allow judges to determine if a person is too dangerous to be released pending trial.
At the same time, the evidence discovery law change requires a faster processing of evidence by prosecutors, a move police departments and district attorneys have said is costly.
The changes were made last year to reduce the amount of time defendants are spending in local jails pending trial, representing some of the most sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system in years.
But since then, and as after law enforcement and Republicans began highlighting their opposition, support for the law among voters has flipped, with most statewide now opposed, a Siena College poll last month found.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has rebuffed calls for altering the bail law, however. Along with advocates, Heastie has said some of the stories highlighting the law sensationalized.
And in some cases, the law is being misapplied by judges.
Heastie was singled out for praised by advocates.
“We're watching closely which elected officials have stood strong in the face of the cynical fear-mongering that seeks to undermine bail reform,” said Katie Schaffer, the director of advocacy and organizing at the Center for Community Alternatives.
“We thank the Speaker Heastie for his steadfast commitment in support of these long overdue reforms, which are positively impacting thousands of New Yorkers across the state. His leadership should serve as a model for those who are serious about righting the wrongs of our unjust criminal legal system. There is much work to be done to address the devastation of mass criminalization, and we call on all elected officials to stand in their courage to protect and build upon our hard-fought gains.”