Skip to main content
Move the World.
new york eliminates bail

In 2020, the bounty hunters will be the ones feeling the heat. To start the new decade, the state of New York is nearly eliminating one of the oldest aspects of the criminal justice system: cash bail.

As old as the English Bill of Rights, cash bail was meant to be a leveler of sorts, a way to avoid prison before prosecution, while ensuring that defendants showed up for trial. The idea is that anyone who is arrested can put down a deposit to continue living their lives while awaiting trial. But for many, even the lowest bail is too much to afford. Locked up for not being able to pay, they may lose jobs or even custody of their children. This disproportionately affects people of color, who are already the most likely to have a run in with the police.

The state of New York is nearly eliminating one of the oldest aspects of the criminal justice system: cash bail.

Could bias be eliminated via math? New Jersey instituted a sweeping reform in 2017, entirely eliminating bail. Replacing it is an algorithmic formula. Using data from the court system, the formula calculates the risk of a given defendant skipping court or committing another crime. For the defendants who get released without bail, they're surely better off — but if the algorithm and judge decide to hold you in jail for months until you are tried, the right to buy some freedom evaporates altogether.

It is, suffice to say, a complicated situation.

By contrast, New York's bail reform is based on the crime a defendant is charged with.

A briefing by the Vera Institute of Justice lays out the law's key points. On misdemeanors — crimes like petty theft, prostitution, simple assault, and drug possession — judges can no longer impose financial conditions on pretrial release. Defendants are either released on their own recognizance, or the judge may require non-monetary means of making sure they show up in court, like electronic monitoring. Judges can still apply bail to misdemeanors involving sexual offenses and domestic violence charges where the defendant violates a restraining order.

Nonviolent felonies can still have cash bail applied to them. Crimes like sexual offenses and witness tampering can impose a price on pretrial freedom, and violent felonies can have bail set like normal, except for certain instances of robbery and burglary where no one is physically harmed.

On misdemeanors — crimes like petty theft, prostitution, simple assault, and drug possession — judges can no longer impose financial conditions on pretrial release.

The end goal is to lower pretrial prison populations, minimize the damage of what reformers see as an inherently biased system, and try to steer the justice system towards, well, justice.

Opponents, including Republican lawmakers, DAs, police chiefs, and the bail bond economy, argue that eliminating bail encourages crime and releases dangerous people back onto the streets. While there are examples of heinous crimes committed by those released without bail, reformers point out that people who paid for their freedom have committed crimes upon release, too.

The ethical quagmire is thick and sticky, but America's fourth largest state (and largest city) will soon join states across the country in trying to find our way through it.

Up Next

The Digital Divide
Cable Companies Won’t, So Rural America Is Building Its Own Broadband Network
broadband internet in rural america
The Digital Divide
Cable Companies Won’t, So Rural America Is Building Its Own Broadband Network
The pandemic revealed how essential the internet is. Now, electric cooperatives that once put rural America on the grid are installing fiber optics.

The pandemic revealed how essential the internet is. Now, electric cooperatives that once put rural America on the grid are installing fiber optics.

Voting
Stadium Voting Sites Make Voting Safer. Here’s How to Find Them.
Stadium Voting Sites Make Voting Safer. Here’s How to Find Them.
Voting
Stadium Voting Sites Make Voting Safer. Here’s How to Find Them.
As the pandemic increases the risk of in-person voting, sports teams are converting their homes into arena and stadium voting sites.

As the pandemic increases the risk of in-person voting, sports teams are converting their homes into arena and stadium voting sites.

Catalysts
The Lost Art of Apprenticeship
The Lost Art of Apprenticeship
Watch Now
Catalysts
The Lost Art of Apprenticeship
After his dad died, he struggled in high school and ended up getting a DUI. Stuck in dead-end jobs, he responded to a nonprofit’s post for free skilled labor training - and his whole life changed.
Watch Now

The Master’s Apprentice is an organization that recruits young people from rough backgrounds - and gives them the skills to find quality careers in the trades. “There’s a huge gap between youth looking for an opportunity... and businesses looking for quality employees.” “There’s a huge gap between youth looking for an opportunity... and businesses looking for quality employees.” ...

Wildfires
A Community at the Frontlines of the War on Wildfire
A Community at the Frontlines of the War on Wildfire
Watch Now
Wildfires
A Community at the Frontlines of the War on Wildfire
When facing literal hellfire, this community effort may be the only way to protect homes and lives from devastating wildfires.
Watch Now

California is burning like never before, with wildfires damaging nearly one million acres in 2018 alone. Despite the State’s best efforts, preventing forest fires doesn’t seem possible from the top down. With climate change accelerating the frequency and scale of these wildfires at an alarming rate, experts are turning to private citizens to help with forest fire prevention and control. Or as we like to say, to help fight...

What We Get Wrong About Love
What We Get Wrong About Love
Watch Now
What We Get Wrong About Love
Why are we so bad at love?
Watch Now

Love is important to all of us - so why aren’t we better at it? Nate Bagley, host of the Loveumentary podcast, interviewed hundreds of successful couples. He found many traditional ideas of love are wrong. In this interview, he explains how to have better relationships and reveals key insights about love that aren’t taught in school. He hopes that by improving our love lives, we can learn to foster better relationships with...

CIVIL
Meet Civil, The Startup That Wants to Save Journalism with the Blockchain
Civil Blockchain
Watch Now
CIVIL
Meet Civil, The Startup That Wants to Save Journalism with the Blockchain
Can the blockchain fight fake news, restore trust in the media, and save a dying a industry?
Watch Now

The news industry is in crisis. Traditional ad models have not transitioned well to the digital world and many newspapers have closed their doors. Clickbait has risen as the pressure to get views at any price rises and quality suffers. People trust the media less and less, which has made it increasingly easy for special interests to manipulate public opinion. But Civil, a new startup, wants to help solve these problems by...

On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: Embryonic People-Pigs, the Glories of the Hubble Telescope,...
This Week in Ideas: Embryonic People-Pigs, the Glories of the Hubble Telescope, and American Cyber-Security
On The Cusp
This Week in Ideas: Embryonic People-Pigs, the Glories of the Hubble Telescope,...
A step toward human organs in animal embryos, the Hubble Telescope was a game changer, and Americans aren't doing...
By Mike Riggs

A step toward human organs in animal embryos, the Hubble Telescope was a game changer, and Americans aren't doing much to protect themselves online.

Culture
This Week in Ideas: Beer That Delivers Itself, Chatbots From Beyond, and How to...
This Week in Ideas: Beer That Delivers Itself, Chatbots From Beyond, and How to Set a Very Strange World Record
Culture
This Week in Ideas: Beer That Delivers Itself, Chatbots From Beyond, and How to...
Uber's self-driving beer truck, how a chatbot can help the grieving process, and more of our favorite stories from...
By Mike Riggs

Uber's self-driving beer truck, how a chatbot can help the grieving process, and more of our favorite stories from the week.