The New York State budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 includes provisions that compromise criminal justice reform legislation adopted in 2019. The Chief Defenders Association of New York issued the following statement regarding those budget measures that address state law governing bail practice and criminal discovery.
In 2019 lawmakers approved landmark criminal justice reforms that limited the state’s ability to jail people on the basis of an unproven allegation before adjudication of the charges against them; and required prosecutors to provide the accused, in a timely manner, all the evidence on which allegations of wrongdoing are based. These reforms were decades overdue. New York law governing bail and discovery were among the most harsh and unfair in the nation.
The 2019 reforms were based on principles of fairness and justice, and on the emerging body of criminal justice scholarship that demonstrates the grave harm caused to individuals, families and communities by overzealous policing and prosecution, which disproportionately targets those living in low-income communities of color.
The 2020/2021 budget violates those principles. The amendments to the criminal justice law will increase the numbers of individuals subject to pre-trial detention and will encourage prosecutors to evade their obligation to disclose evidence to those accused of a crime.
These budget measures are not based on principle or common sense, but rather on election-year maneuvering in service of a false narrative. This politicization of criminal justice reform will increase the public health risks created by the coronavirus pandemic. While local courts, defenders, prosecutors, police, mayors and corrections officials are working tirelessly to further reduce the jail population, the amendments to the bail law encourage incarceration rather than decarceration, at a time when cases are unable to proceed due to closed courts.
But for aggressive, principled advocacy, both inside and outside the Capitol building, the rollback of the 2019 reforms of the bail and discovery laws could have been more extensive.
The movement to promote systemic criminal justice reform will not be derailed. This effort is led by a committed, well informed community of social justice advocates, criminal justice lawyers and scholars, and public health experts. There are progressive allies in government who recognize that social justice requires comprehensive criminal justice reform.
The Chief Defenders Association of New York is a member of this community; the CDANY’s members are committed to advancing criminal justice law and policy that protects the constitutional rights and the health, safety and well-being of everyone in New York State.