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Job two in Albany: Reform bail reform

2020-01-08

In a State of the State speech brimming with proposals — 32 have already been previewed — one item cries out for Gov. Cuomo’s leadership. It’s fixing something he and the Legislature botched in 2019: bail reform.

The system that became law one week ago is as rigid as they come. Unless the accused individual is charged with an offense specifically prescribed as permitting bail or remand (that means ordering someone jailed with no bail allowed), he or she is automatically released pretrial.

No flexibility, no discretion, no judicial judgment allowed.

Thousands of innocent-until-proven guilty people who had been locked up will now be free to support their families and prepare their defenses. That’s progress. But others who might be flight risks, or, as in other states that have eliminated cash bail, might be deemed dangers to the public, can under no circumstances be held. That’s a step back.

Mandatory release of a number of defendants accused of serious crimes has already triggered second, third and fourth thoughts. Mayor de Blasio, who a year ago rightly urged lawmakers to give judges permission to consider public safety, stepped in to force a psychiatric review of Tiffany Harris, who had been arrested and released multiple times in the space of a week, including for an anti-Semitic assault.

Meanwhile, the city and other municipalities are struggling to pay for the monitoring and other services needed.

Damning the torpedoes, Cuomo and the Legislature pushed the not-ready-for-prime-time bill through. The governor needs to do better than vaguely signal his openness to a fix. He must demand the return of judicial discretion.