VOCAL-NY Pushes for End of Cash Bail and Other Criminal Justice Reforms, Reported by WAMC

Posted on February 6, 2019

Criminal Justice Reformers Hope To See Action In NY Soon

Originally Published in WAMC on February 5, 2019
Written by Karen DeWitt

New York lawmakers say it’s likely they will vote soon to end cash bail and make other changes to help defendants who they say are unfairly treated in in the state’s criminal justice system. The sponsor of a measure to end cash bail, Senator Mike Gianaris, spoke at a rally of criminal justice reform advocates. He said the state’s bail system disproportionately affects the poor, and is racially biased. “Harvey Weinstein was accused of horrible things. He is in his lavish home today,” said Gianaris. “Can you imagine if a young black man was accused of the same things he was accused of? And how that person would be treated? We have a grossly unfair system right now.”

Gianaris says the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, which recently had no heat or electricity for nearly a week, houses many prisoners who are awaiting trial and could not meet bail requirements. He says while it’s a federal prison that does not come under New York’s rules, it nevertheless illustrates the problems with preventive detention. “There are people in that jail who… were essentially tortured in freezing weather because they hadn’t even been convicted yet,” Gianaris said. Nick Encalada-Malinowski, who works on the issue for the advocacy group VOCAL-NY, says with the state legislature and governor’s office now run by Democrats, the measures could be approved much sooner.

Encalada-Malinowski and other advocates also want to reform New York’s discovery laws, which they say are among the most regressive in the nation. A bill under consideration would require prosecutors to disclose, at the defendant’s first court appearance, any exculpatory information that could help a defendant’s case. The defendant and their attorneys would be allowed to inspect, copy and photograph all of the prosecution’s materials. A third measure would guarantee faster trials for defendants, who often have to wait months and even years for their cases to wind through the court system.

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