Editorial

A Court System In Turmoil




The “I told you so” chorus from opponents of New York state’s court reform initiatives, given the chaotic rollout of the program, was inevitable. The poster child for the problems with the implementation of the new bail reform had to be the bank robber who, released without bail, went and robbed a bank, and then another one. He ended up turning himself in.

Yeah, some good yuks at the expense of the do-gooders. But watching repeat violators get instant gratification isn’t very funny.

However, an examination into the motives of those who fought for these reforms seems, conveniently, buried in the negative press.

The fact is, bail was never supposed to be about incarcerating those accused of a crime. We are presumed innocent. Remember that cornerstone of our juris prudence system?

More and more, bail became punitive, doled out according to the severity of the crime allegedly committed. The public would cry out for bail to be set so high there would be no possible way for the accused to get out of jail while awaiting trial — which, by the way, sometimes takes months, even years — another flaw in the system.

The fact is the system favored those who could afford bail and penalized those who could not. We had situations where criminals accused of bilking the public of millions of dollars were free to live in their penthouses and people who stole a case of beer rotted away in prison. Studies show almost three-quarters of people in the New York jail system at any given time hadn’t been convicted of anything yet, and the majority were people of color.

Unfortunately, as so often happens in New York state under Governor Andrew Cuomo, we were slammed with a hammer when the new law kicked in.

For one thing, the new reforms should have been phased in, to allow the system to digest and better afford the costs involved. Our judges must be authorized to recognize those arrested who pose a threat to society and keep them behind bars, at least while the investigation is underway.

Upgraded charges for repeat offenders — like the woman who repeatedly attacked Orthodox Jewish women each time she walked out of jail — should be instituted, making hard time mandatory.

Most important, Governor Cuomo must learn to listen to prosecutors and defense attorneys, judges and legislators, and keep an open mind to what he is hearing.