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How Global Citizens Helped Move Cash Bail Reform Forward in New York

New York’s new budget brought good news for thousands this month when it passed on March 31 — the state's legislators made some key progress on bail reform.

Global Citizen has been working with partners around the state and rallying the voices of Global Citizens in New York to campaign for cash bail to be eliminated. The cash bail system criminalizes poverty, which means this is literally about people being able to afford their own freedom. For example, if bail is set at $5,000 someone who can’t afford to spare that sum of money will likely sit in jail, while a wealthy person will more easily pay it up. As a result, poor people entering pretrial detention often end up losing their jobs and housing, exacerbating the cycle of poverty.

Take Action: Tell Governor Cuomo New York Must Move to End Cash Bail for Everyone

Global Citizens had clear asks to end the criminalization of poverty in New York. We called for New York to set a nationwide precedent for bail reform that the rest of the country can emulate, and over the course of our campaign, over 41,000 of Global Citizens’ actions have called on New York’s legislators to act.

Governor Andrew Cuomo made a personal pledge toward reforming the cash bail system at the 2018 Global Citizen Festival in New York. He has since been re-elected as governor, and on Jan. 15, 2019, the proposed NY 2019/20 budget included provisions to end cash bail.

"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," the governor's 2019 Justice Agenda read.

"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."

Read More: 6 Myths About Cash Bail Reform, Debunked

Since Cuomo’s proposal in January 2019, New York’s legislators have been working on drawing up the budget for the next financial year. When fears began to rise about cash bail being lost in the negotiations, Global Citizens tweeted at New York’s legislators, including the Senate and the Assembly, to ensure that they, too, endorsed bail reform. We then launched an action to some local district attorneys representing Albany, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Westchester, Erie, and Broom counties.

Actor, rapper, and outspoken champion for criminal justice reform Common joined our fight to end cash bail last year at a mass bailout in New York, and last month lent his voice to help push bail reforms through.

So this month’s response was encouraging. After weeks of negotiation between Governor Cuomo and leaders in the Senate and Assembly, the new budget passed on March 31 eliminates cash bail for some low-level charges and many misdemeanors. This is a compromise struck between the voices of those who sought to end the injustice of cash bail, and those who are acting on fears of social protection — even though judges are not actually allowed to consider a defendant’s “threat to public safety.”

When this legislation goes into effect in January 2020, cash bail will still be on the table for some.

Read More: Why Activists Say New York's Cash Bail Reform Doesn't Go Far Enough

This is only a partial elimination of the system, and bail will still be eligible in cases involving some felonies and more serious charges. While the state as a whole is expected to experience a sharp decline in the number of people given bail and sitting in pretrial detention, cash bail will still be a proxy for freedom for some New Yorkers. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, in some counties in upstate New York, anywhere between 60% to 70% of people in jails are accused of misdemeanors, yet in New York City, most people are held on more serious charges.

Governor Cuomo’s original commitment was to end cash bail for all. This is progress in line with his pledge, but we’re not there yet. In fact, the legislators themselves have acknowledged that this isn’t finished, and that there’s still work to be done.

We need to ensure that money doesn’t determine freedom for any New Yorkers, and that everyone’s constitutional right to the presumption of innocence is respected. We cannot accept that poverty continues to be criminalized.

Take Action: Tell Governor Cuomo New York Must Move to End Cash Bail for Everyone

So we ask that you keep taking action. We’re going to keep up the campaigning until June 19, which will mark the end of the legislative session, in the hopes that we can ensure that Governor Cuomo’s commitment to end cash bail is delivered in full this year.