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New York’s 2018 Bail Reform Law Blamed for Surge in Crime Across the State: Report

Published: August 23, 2022
Police gather at the scene of a shooting in Brooklyn that left one person dead on June 16, 2022 in New York City. While much of the nation has witnessed a rise in gun violence over the last year, police are anticipating a surge in shootings over the coming summer months. According to NYPD statistics, a total of 656 people have been shot in 559 incidents so far this year. (Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

According to a recent report titled “More Criminals, More Crime: Measuring the Public Safety Impact of New York’s 2018 Bail Law,” published on July 28 this year by the Manhattan Institute, following the implementation of New York’s 2018 bail reform laws, crime in the Empire State surged by double digit percentages for numerous types of crime. 

According to the report, the period between March 15, 2019 and March 15 2020 saw burglaries in New York state rise by 26.5 percent while robberies rose by an astounding 33.9 percent. 

Shooting incidents rose by 22.9 percent during the same period as well as grand larceny which increased by 15.8 percent. Car thefts increased by an astounding 68 percent in the same period.

“The only crimes to show decreases were murder (-3.2%) and rape (-11.5%), crimes for which judges could still set bail,” the report reads. 

2018 bail reform law explained

New York’s bail reform law was passed in 2018 and implemented in 2019 and has been amended several times. The original law was intended to reduce the number of people jailed while awaiting trial simply because they could not afford to pay bail. Judges were also afforded more discretion when setting bail and other conditions of pretrial release. 

Judges were supplied a list offenses considered “qualifying offenses” that they were able to set bail for, mostly violent felony offenses including rape, first-degree robbery and burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, armed robbery, and criminal possession of a weapon as a felony.

The law prohibits judges from setting bail on almost any nonviolent felony offense. 

Judges were restricted from setting bail for more than 350 crimes deemed “non-bailable” including grand larceny, commercial burglary, perjury, criminal contempt, bail jumping, escape, setting fire to commercial properties or cars, stalking, selling or possessing even large amounts of narcotics on the street, manslaughter, and even criminally negligent homicide.

Proponents of the law argue that prior to the implementation of the new bail reform laws there was a two tier system of justice; one for the wealthy who can afford to bond out of jail and one for the poor who may not have the resources to secure their pretrial freedom.

In addition, under the legislation, judges are required to impose “‘the least restrictive kind and degree of control or restriction that is necessary to secure’ the defendant’s return to court when required,” the report reads.

Prior to the passing of the law, then New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who proposed his own version of the legislation, applauded the move saying, “The blunt ugly reality is that too often, if you can make bail, you are set free, and if you are too poor to make bail, you are punished.”


Immediate consequences

Mere days after the new laws were implemented New York media and politicians raised the alarm, citing the case of Tiffany Harris who was arrested three times in less than a week for assaulting Orthodox Jewish women in Brooklyn. “Harris walked free under the state’s new soft-on-crime law,” the NY Post wrote at the time. The incident prompted the community to ask that hate crimes be included on the qualifying offense list. 

“After the law passed, court administrators realized that on New Year’s Day 2020, when the law was scheduled to take effect, all the defendants then being held solely on bail on these non-qualifying offenses would have to be released,” the authors of the report assert.

As a result, experts estimated that around 40 percent of the then 5000 inmates held pretrial would have to be released as well as thousands of others being held in jails around the state. 

An analysis, conducted by the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in early June 2019 found that there were 398 defendants held solely on account that they could not afford bail.

The analysis also revealed that the average number of felony arrests of the 398 defendants was 5.7 and the average felony convictions for the group was 1.2.

According to a case history of Queens County defendants, who qualified for mandatory release as of May 29, 2019, the average felony arrests per defendant was 5.94 and the average felony conviction per defendant was 1.38. 

Police gather at the scene of a shooting where an officer was shot in his patrol car in Brooklyn on June 23, 2022 in New York City. The shooting comes on the day that the Supreme Court ruled that New York’s laws were too restrictive for individuals wanting a handgun. (Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

2018 bail reform law appears to reverse drop in crime rates

Prior to the implementation of the new bail reform laws, crime was actually going down in New York City.

“It should be noted that overall crime in NYC went down 1.1% in calendar year 2019, compared with 2018, with burglary down 8.9%, grand larceny down 1.4%, car theft down 0.2%, and misdemeanor assault down 0.8%,” the report reads.

The most noticeable change in crime patterns at the time was in car theft which declined 12.5 percent in April 2019, compared to the same period in 2018 however this drop in rates shrunk to just 0.2 percent by December 2019, compared with the same period the year before. 

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, crime also dropped due to lock downs and the restriction of people’s movement making them “unavailable as crime victims.”

The report asserts that the overall crime rate dropped during the pandemic driven almost entirely by a reduction in grand larceny. 

While definitions of grand larceny differ from state to state, in New York State it is defined as “wrongfully taking, withholding, or obtaining property from its rightful owner, with the aim to either take the property for themselves or someone else or to deprive the rightful owner of said property.”

The occurrence of petty shoplifting also plunged due to numerous businesses being closed.

However a rise in crimes in several other areas continued unabated. Murder rose 23.1 percent in 2020 and burglary rose by 45.8 percent, car theft rose by 60.8 percent and shootings rose by 43.9 percent. 

“These are percentage increases in these crimes not seen in decades, following nearly three decades of crime reductions in NYC,” the report concludes.