Poll finds weak support for NY’s bail reforms

A Siena College poll taken after a wave of negative publicity surrounding New York’s newly implemented bail reforms found that 49 percent of New Yorkers viewed those changes as bad for the state and only 37 percent saw them as good.

Disapproval was particularly heavy in the suburbs, where 64 percent of poll respondents took a dim view of eliminating bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies and only 23 percent regarded that policy as good. Upstate, the split was 32 percent (good) to 56 percent (bad). (Siena groups Orange County in the suburbs and Sullivan and Ulster counties in upstate.)

Republicans were more solidly opposed (15-78 percent) than Democrats were favorable (53-34 percent), and most independents were sour on bail reform (29-56 percent). Statewide, 13 percent of respondents had mixed or no views on bail reform or thought it was too early too judge its impact. The poll of 814 New Yorkers was taken Jan. 11-16 and released Tuesday.

Republican politicians, backed by law enforcement officials, have pounced on bail reform as a Democratic blunder that should be be dropped or amended, and as a potent symbol of one-party rule in Albany. Democrats, in turn, have accused Republicans of fanning public fear and misrepresenting the law, although some support making adjustments to restore some leeway for judges to order suspects held on bail.

“Now is not the time for small tweaks or minor changes to this new law,” Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan said in a statement responding to the Siena poll. “Democrats should admit they made a grave mistake and swiftly join us in repealing bail reform now. It’s time to scrap this dangerous and deadly statute before more innocent New Yorkers are abused, assaulted, or killed.”

A bail-reform advocacy group responded by saying the poll showed it needed to do more work educating the public on the benefits of allowing more defendants – not only those who can afford bail – to await trial outside of jail.

“Unfortunately, months of fearmongering and misinformation have had an effect, as defenders of a broken status quo commit to frightening New Yorkers instead of coming together to make sure much-needed reforms are working as intended,” said Khalil A. Cumberbatch, chief strategist for New Yorkers United for Justice. “And the new system can work: look no further than Kings County, in which DA Gonzalez eliminated cash bail for misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies three years ago – and violent crime is down 18%. We don’t have to choose between fairness and safety.”

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