Of the 25,000 New Yorkers currently in jail across the state, 70% of them are in pretrial detention, which means they’re legally innocent and awaiting their day in court.

The main reason they’re behind bars? They don’t have $500, $1,000, and sometimes $5,000 or more to spare for bail.

It’s become increasingly clear in recent years that the cash bail system criminalizes poverty. A wealthy person can pay their bail and buy their freedom, while a person living in poverty often has to sit in jail because they can’t afford that sum of money. This can perpetuate cycles of poverty by causing a person to lose their job, home, and more.

Throughout the US, a movement seeking to end this injustice has been growing, and New York could soon emerge as a champion in this fight.

In response to 9,432 Global Citizens’ calls to his office demanding an end to cash bail in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo made an announcement last September that he would work to put an end to this system.

Many Global Citizens were inspired by this commitment. However, to ensure that the governor follows through on this promise, 34,753 signed our petition to further elevate the need for meaningful bail reform this year.

Even Global Citizen Ambassador Usher added his own voice to the mix.

Read More: Usher Calls on New York to End Cash Bail and Set an Example for the US

That’s why on Jan. 15, we were delighted to hear that Governor Cuomo’s 2020 budget prioritizes bail reform.

His bail reform proposal, outlined in the Pretrial Justice Reform Act in the 2020 budget, includes a package of positive reforms to the pretrial justice system. Many aspects of the proposed legislation include components of the four principles that were outlined in our petition, which were to:

  • End cash bail
  • Reduce the number of people in pretrial detention and eliminate racial disparities in pretrial populations
  • Honor the presumption of innocence and constitutional right to due process
  • Ensure that the state bears the costs of any pretrial services or conditions imposed 

“Governor Cuomo is advancing legislation that will end cash bail once and for all, significantly reduce the number of people held in jail pretrial, and ensure due process for anyone awaiting trial behind bars. This series of reforms will include a mandate that police issue appearance tickets instead of making arrests in low-level cases, eliminate money as a means of determining freedom, and institute a new procedure whereby a district attorney can move for a hearing to determine whether eligible defendants may be held in jail pretrial, for which the judge must find reasonable cause to believe the individual is a danger to themselves or others.” (Release of Governor Cuomo’s Justice Agenda)

These comprehensive reforms would put an end to cash bail and ensure that more people have the ability to remain in their community and maintain the presumption of innocence. In addition, those accused of a crime would no longer have to foot the bill for any pretrial services imposed by a judge.

Last week, we had the opportunity to meet with Alphonso David, counsel to Governor Cuomo, along with actor Gbenga Akkinagbe to hand over the list of Global Citizens who have taken action to help elevate the need for bail reform. Gbenga’s organization, Liberated People, has been supporting Global Citizen’s efforts to help end cash bail this year.

During the handover, we expressed that these commendable reforms are a great step in the right direction and demonstrate that the governor is committed to following through on his promise.

That being said, to really “lead the way” and set a national precedent, we believe that a few amendments would make this legislation even stronger. Governor Cuomo can achieve this by ensuring that more individuals have access to their due process rights, and by further limiting the use of pretrial detention.

It doesn’t end here. To really achieve meaningful change in pretrial justice, Governor Cuomo, as well as members of the New York State Legislature, will need to work together to enact these reforms.

Read More: Texas Inmate's Suicide Highlights Need to End Cash Bail, Advocates Say

Global Citizen continues to campaign on this issue, and to work with partners like the Vera Institute of Justice to make this reform count.

“The need to dramatically change the way we do bail throughout New York State is urgent and timely. And, for the first time in over five decades, it’s entirely within reach.” (Vera Institute of Justice)

New York can set a precedent nationally and become a new, much needed, standard for bail reform around the country.

Join us in making this happen by taking action here.


Demand Equity

New York Governor Cuomo Sets National Precedent for Bail Reform

By Sophie Barbier