By David Brand
Six of Queens’ seven state senators have co-sponsored a bill that would drastically overhaul the bail system and significantly reduce the number of people detained in city jails, leaving State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. as the lone holdout from the borough’s senate delegation.
Addabbo has not signed onto the Bail Elimination Act, though at least 335 of his constituents have been charged with a misdemeanor since 2017, and could not afford bail of $2,000 or less, according to client data compiled by The Legal Aid Society and shared exclusively with the Eagle.
Addabbo’s Senate District 15 encompasses all or part of Broad Channel, Elmhurst, Forest Hills, Glendale, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills, Maspeth, Middle Village, Ozone Park, Rego Park, Richmond Hill, Ridgewood, South Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Woodside and most of the Rockaway peninsula.
The Bail Elimination Act would provide judges with three alternatives to cash bail to prevent those who cannot afford it from languishing in jail: release on recognizance for misdemeanors, pretrial monitoring for more serious offenses and remanding defendants to city jails for the most serious offenses.
Astoria State Sen. Michael Gianaris introduced the legislation, which has been co-sponsored by Queens State Sens. Leroy Comrie, John Liu, Jessica Ramos, James Sanders Jr. and Toby Ann Stavisky.
Addabbo said it was too early to get behind the measure.
"Bail reform is still being negotiated, so with no definitive language, I cannot support or reject it yet,” he told the Eagle.
A coalition of state and city leaders, as well as criminal justice reform activists, have lined up behind the bail reform measure, however.
“There are devastating human costs that come when people are locked up on Rikers Island for the simple reason that they are poor,” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer wrote in an op-ed for the Amsterdam News on Tuesday. A 2018 report by Stringer’s office determined that defendants in pre-trial detention who could not afford their bail lost about $28 million in wages per year in New York City.
“So going to jail is just the start,” Stringer wrote. “People lose jobs and income, they lose contact with families, they lose apartments, they miss school — all because they don’t have the cash to secure their release.”
The city’s plan to close Rikers Island jails and move detainees into four proposed community-based jails depends on the city’s ability to reduce the jail population. Advocates say the city could immediately reduce the population by eliminating cash bail and instituting pretrial check-ins and monitoring. About 8,000 people are currently detained on Rikers Island and in other city jails.
As of Aug. 27, 2018, roughly 78 percent of the 8,258 people on Rikers Island were in pretrial detention, according to data compiled by the Queens DA’s Office and presented at a debate on the future of Rikers. There were 1,811 inmates not awaiting trial.
Of the 6,447 pretrial detainees, 114 were serving a sentence on another case, 1,053 had violated parole, 1,985 were remanded without bail and 320 were detainers or holds for other jurisdictions — all ineligible for release.
That left 2,975 people who could be released on bail, which would immediately decrease the Rikers population to 5,283 people.
The four proposed jails, including a 30-story facility in Kew Gardens, would have combined capacity for 5,750 detainees. Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed reducing the population to 5,000 detainees by 2027.
Though Addabbo is the only Queens senator to resist the bail reform legislation, there are other New York City Democrats who have also declined or hesitated to co-sponsor the bill. On Monday, the Brooklyn Eagle reported on three mainstream Democrats from Southern Brooklyn who have not signed onto the Bail Elimination Act.
State Sens. Andrew Gounardes, Roxanne Persaud and Diane Savino represent at least 1,392 constituents who would immediately benefit from the legislation because they were charged with a misdemeanor and could not afford bail of $2,000 or less since 2017, the Brooklyn Eagle reported. Brooklyn State Sen. Simcha Felder, who does not caucus with either party, has not supported the bill either.
The Assembly version of the Bail Elimination Act has garnered support from Queens Assemblymembers David Weprin and Daniel Rosenthal.
Editor’s note: David Brand, the author of this article, also wrote the Brooklyn Eagle story referenced above.