NY Bail Law Fight Emblematic of Democrats’ Debate On Crime - The Jewish Voice
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NY Bail Law Fight Emblematic of Democrats’ Debate On Crime

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By: Michelle L. Price

It’s hard to find anyone on board with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s plan to toughen the state’s bail laws, two years after they were retooled to keep people from being jailed because they are poor.

Reform advocates say the system should be left alone. Police leaders and even some of the governor’s fellow Democrats say the proposal doesn’t go far enough to roll back what they consider soft treatment of criminals.

The debate over bail in New York is emblematic of a fight taking place elsewhere in the U.S.

A spike in violence during the COVID-19 pandemic has Democrats eager to show they’re tough on crime ahead of this year’s midterm elections, from the White House on down, but the party is struggling to find a common message with progressives pushing the need for police reform and moderates focusing instead on rising crime rates.

Hochul’s attempt to stake out a middle ground has provoked criticism from all points of the political spectrum.

“I think that’s a sign that you’re in the right place,” she said of her plan in March. The proposal would continue to limit instances in which people would be required to post bail but make more crimes eligible for detention and give judges more discretion to consider a defendant’s criminal history.

New York changed its bail laws in response to public outcry over prisoners accused of minor crimes being held in jail for extended periods while awaiting trial because they couldn’t afford to pay bail — a system where a person puts up cash as a guarantee that they will return to court.

The state’s answer was to eliminate cash bail for many nonviolent offenses — a reform that frustrated some law enforcement officials who warned that people released back to the streets would commit new crimes.

But with violent crime up across America, crime rates have been an easy target and longstanding bogeyman for Republicans, who have wasted no opportunity to make it a campaign issue in races around the U.S., including governor’s races in Illinois, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Democrats, bracing for tough midterm elections, are striving to prove they’re responding, in some cases emphasizing efforts to provide more money to police departments while making scant mention of reforms they embraced a few years ago.

In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz is up for reelection and has been touring the state promoting his $300 million public safety plan. He has not focused on the reform measures he signed after police killed George Floyd in the state almost two years ago.

Wisconsin’s Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who is also running for reelection this year, has been hammered by Republicans over crime and like Hochul, is facing bipartisan pressure to toughen bail laws.

A record-setting spate of homicides in Albuquerque has ratcheted up pressure on New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, including from some fellow Democrats. The first-term governor has joined efforts to ban pretrial release for certain violent crimes, though some legislators in her own party have balked at rolling back reforms that largely ended money bail.

(AP)

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