The bail reform law passed last year sought to fix a system that practically everyone, including District Attorneys and law enforcement, agrees was fundamentally flawed. I have met with many of the men and women we entrust to protect us, and the conversation almost always begins by acknowledging that what we had before was not working.
Let's start with this basic premise: An individual charged with a serious crime should be held in jail before trial if there is a risk to the public or a risk of fleeing.
That's not how the old bail system worked. People with money, charged with violent crimes, could buy their way out of jail before trial, while people with less money, facing minor charges, had to await trial in jail. The old way was neither fair nor safe.
How did we get here?
How did we get from the old system to what we have now? Bail reform was one of many bills included in the 2019 New York State budget. With that same vote, we also made the property tax cap permanent, expanded financial support for New York schools, restored funding to hospitals, nursing homes, and home healthcare programs and addressed vital substance abuse and veterans' issues.
Putting all of that policy into a single vote is no way to run a government, which is why I am advocating for a constitutional amendment to prohibit non-budgetary legislation in the budget.
Here’s what you need to know about the bail reforms passed last year: All defendants are treated the same way for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, regardless of what’s in their bank account. I wish more people understood that all these reforms have done is given everybody the same rights that people with money have always had.
But the law passed in the budget has inconsistencies. People charged with violent felonies can still buy their way out of jail before trial. And some charges that are legally classified as non-violent, like second degree burglary, are crimes that many people see as violent.
'Legislators must be willing to assess and adjust'
I am deeply committed to public safety and have been participating in a Senate working group to assess the reforms and propose adjustments. We have put forth a plan that I believe is fair, just and protective of all New Yorkers.
Our proposal is simple: if the charge is serious enough and there is a risk to the public, or if the accused is a persistent offender or flight risk, the judge can hold the defendant in jail before trial. This determination would be made through a hearing process, with strong safeguards to ensure fairness. How much money a person has would never be a factor.
As legislators, we must be willing to assess and adjust. The old system was badly broken and we shouldn't go back. We should move forward from where we are now, not as a reaction to politicized sensationalism, but based on facts and truth.
I encourage my fellow legislators to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves, and to support the new Senate proposal.
Jen Metzger is the represents District 42 in the New York State Senate. The districts covers much of the Catskills and western Hudson Valley, including all of Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware counties. In Orange County, the district includes Warwick, Greenwood Lake and Tuxedo.