TIMESLEDGER | QNS.COM | APRIL 8-14, 2022
BACKING BAIL ROLLBACKS? YOU HAVEN’T SEEN RIKERS UP CLOSE
BY STATE SENATOR JESSICA RAMOS
We can’t talk about bail reform without
talking about the crisis at Rikers Island and
dozens of other local jails across the state.
People lying on the floor, packed in tight
together. Denied the chance to fight the
charges against them while keeping their
jobs or schooling, even as a surging rate
of death behind bars climbed even higher.
Denied medical care, even as their broken
bones throb with pain. Denied mental health
support, even as their symptoms overwhelm
them and, in desperation, they attempt to
hang themselves. This is just part of what I
saw when I visited people in pre-trial detention
on Rikers Island. This is what most of
my colleagues have not seen, even as they are
confronted with calls to replace bail reform
laws with policies even more regressive than
what New York had in place before reform.
The horrid facilities I saw were haunted
by many ghosts, including that of Kalief
Browder. At age 16, Kalief was falsely accused
of stealing a backpack. The judge set
bail beyond what his family could afford,
and he was caged at Rikers. For three years,
he languished behind bars — two of them in
solitary confinement — as a teenager. It’s an
open secret that prosecutors use pre-trial jailing
to coerce guilty pleas, and often it works,
but Kalief held on. Finally, when prosecutors
admitted they had no case, the charges were
dropped, but they offered nothing to address
the trauma that young Kalief had suffered.
Two years later, he died by suicide.
Unfortunately, Governor Hochul has a
new plan to condemn more people to Kalief’s
fate, expanding pre-trial jailing and allowing
prosecutors to hide evidence. We must reject
Rather than improving public safety, jail
itself is a public safety hazard to our communities.
Just one night in jail is enough
for a person to suffer the destabilization of
lost housing, work or child custody, regardless
of case outcomes. And the data is clear
that those detained for longer stretches are
effectively coerced to plead guilty, often in
exchange for release.
When tabloids trot out a New Yorker with
a long history of low-level arrests, their rap
sheets always date back to before bail reform.
Whatever your political leanings, we should
agree that cycling low-income people in and
out of jail with no support for mental health,
substance use, housing or other needs does
not work to prevent violence or make us safer.
(Also, contrary to misinformation, judges can
still set bail in many cases involving repeat
arrests, but sometimes make case-by-case
decisions not to do so.)
Still, we need urgent and sustained action
to improve safety. The chaos of COVID-19
has triggered an uptick in crime across the
country. Many of the loudest voices blame
progressive criminal justice reforms, but
eight of the 10 states with the highest murder
rates are red states. Republican-led cities of
similar size had more murders than their
Democratic counterparts, and murder rates
were far higher in smaller Republican-led
cities like Anchorage and Lubbock. Moreover,
under New York’s bail reform, judges
retained discretion to set bail in gun cases,
so changing bail laws won’t change gun
In fact, a new report from New York City
Comptroller Brad Lander evaluates law enforcement
data and finds that, contrary to
what many politicians have said in the press,
bail reform definitively did not cause the
recent increase in shootings we’re all grappling
Partisan politics and bail reform smears
aside, blaming the wrong cause distracts
from real and urgent solutions. Let’s scale
That’s why we need to pass my legislation,
the Treatment Not Jail Act, to expand
access to mental health and drug treatment
courts, which connect people with
proven treatment options rather than
simply cycling them through jail.
This law would empower judges to offer
court-mandated treatment to people with
mental health and substance use challenges
as an alternative to incarceration.
The Senate and Assembly one-house
budget resolutions make the right call: They
follow facts, not fear and invest in needed
community-based services and supports.
Together, we have proposed millions of dollars
for pretrial services, gun violence prevention,
community safety and restorative
Our communities deserve true public
safety and it’s on us to deliver.
State Senator Jessica Ramos represents
Astoria, Corona, East Elmhurst, Elmhurst,
Jackson Heights and Woodside.
ON THE WEB
VISIT US ONLINE AT QNS.COM
CHECK OUT OUR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES:
Letters should be typed or neatly handwritten, and those longer than 300 words
may be edited for brevity and clarity. All letters must include the writer’s name
and phone number for verifi cation. Names may be withheld from publication if
requested, but anonymously sent letters will not be printed. Letters must be received
by Thursday noon to appear in the next week’s paper. All letters become
the property of Schneps Media and may be republished in any format.
LAST WEEK’S TOP STORY:
Cherry blossoms are in full bloom around Queens
SUMMARY: Springtime means that the cherry blossoms are in full
bloom around Queens. Locals can catch these beautiful blooms all
around the borough, including in Flushing Meadows Corona Park,
Astoria and Long Island City. There are a total of 34,167 ornamental
cherry trees in New York City, with over 15,000 in Queens alone.