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Advocates rally to protest NY Gov. Hochul's 'betrayal' on proposed bail reform changes

The state capitol in Albany
Dave Lucas

New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal to roll back portions of the state’s landmark bail reform laws was the subject of an angry rally at the state Capitol Monday, with some speakers comparing the plan to other civil rights setbacks, including the creation of Jim Crow laws in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The protesters gathered at the Capitol, chanting, “Hell no to Cuomo 2.0."

A memo that Hochul confirms comes from her office proposes that the state budget includes 10 changes to the state’s 2019 criminal justice reforms that included an end to most forms of cash bail.

The plan makes some offenses, including all gun-related crimes, once again eligible for bail. If someone is released without bail after being accused of a crime and is arrested for a second offense, then they would have to post bail to avoid being incarcerated until their trial date. Hochul is also proposing that judges be allowed to incarcerate defendants pre-trial if they deem them to be dangerous.

Marvin Mayfield, an organizer with the Center for Community Alternatives, says advocates were caught unawares.

“Surprised doesn’t even cover the emotions that we felt,” said Mayfield. “Blindsided, bamboozled, betrayed, all of those came to mind.”

Mayfield spent 11 months in jail on Rikers Island because he could not meet bail, charged with a robbery he says he did not commit. Mayfield, who says he suffered mistreatment, including a broken leg while incarcerated, says he took his attorney’s advice and eventually pled guilty to time served to put an end to his suffering.

He says Governor Hochul said earlier this year that she was waiting for more data before attempting to change the laws, but he says so far there's been no new or conclusive evidence linking the criminal justice reforms to rising crime rates. Crime is also up in other states across the country who have not changed their bail laws. He says the criminal justice reforms in New York are being “scapegoated."

“We want to let the public know that bail reform is working,” Mayfield said. “There is no data that says that it has contributed to any uptick in crime.”

Jared Trujillo, with the New York Civil Liberties Union, compares the governor’s proposed changes to the Jim Crow laws enacted after Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War, as well as the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which were passed following voting rights advancements in the 1960s.

“Is this governor going to use her budget to roll back some of the most important civil rights victories in New York’s history?” Trujillo asked.

Hochul has been the target of negative TV ads from Republican and Democratic challengers in the 2022 governor’s race, who link the rising crime rates to the reforms.

The rally was delayed by an hour after Hochul’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Benjamin, met privately with many of the lawmakers who were scheduled to be at the rally. Benjamin left the meeting by a side door and did speak to the media. Some of the legislators did not attend the rally, saying the later time slot presented a scheduling conflict.

Hochul, at a COVID-19 briefing, says she and her aides came up with the proposals, but they were not the ones to leak it to the media. But Hochul says she will not negotiate details of the budget in public, and is instead trying to seek consensus with lawmakers around the issue.

“The public is aware that I share their concerns about public safety,” Hochul said. “And that’s why we’re working with my team and working with the legislators to craft a position and a policy...that I believe will respond to the needs of what’s going on right now.”

Hochul did not say how she planned to convince the state’s legislative leaders, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who championed bail reform and who oppose revising the bail reform laws, to change their minds.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.