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503 Long Islanders were rearrested for violent crimes since New York’s bail reform — 31,741 were not

Police car
Scott Davidson

Since New York enacted bail reform laws in 2020, 503 people on Long Island were rearrested for violent crimes while awaiting trial on another criminal charge, according to state court data. This number represents 0.9% of all defendants released.

Of the rearrests:

  • 164 people, or 0.3% of defendants, went on to be arrested for a crime involving a gun; 
  • 50 people, or 0.8% of defendants, did not pay any bail and were later arrested for a gun related crime;
  • 503 people were rearrested for violent felonies;
  • 3,904 people were rearrested for misdemeanors;
  • 2,206 people were arrested for nonviolent felonies;
  • 25,631 were not rearrested.

On Long Island, the overwhelming majority of defendants released from jail while awaiting trial were not arrested for violent crimes since the state’s bail reform laws went into effect in January 2020. A larger number of rearrests were for lesser nonviolent and misdemeanor offenses.

On Long Island, 6,613 people, or 12% of defendants, were rearrested for another crime while awaiting trial on the first offense.

Two views on the same data

Whether these figures are large or small depends largely on political partisanship.

The 2020 state law expanded the number of crimes that judges could not impose a cash bail. Republicans used the law as a top campaign issue last November to criticize Democrats as soft on crime. With the issue, they won a number of key elections, including for district attorney in both Suffolk and Nassau County.

This week, Republicans railed against Democrats for “creating more victims” and emphasized that, in the case of Long Island, the 6,613 defendants rearrested after bail reform each had a victim.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman went to Albany on Tuesday to join Republicans in slamming Democrats.

“When you look at this bail reform law, it's nothing more than a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card,” he said.

Blakeman described two gun-related arrestees who he said were released without bail. He said one of the two men was arrested for criminal possession of a gun. Blakeman did not say how or if the men were convicted.

According to the state courts data for Long Island, the most frequent convictions for those rearrested with a gun while awaiting trial were disorderly conduct, which is a violation, and drug possession, which is a misdemeanor.

Advocates for criminal justice reform are concerned Republicans are fear mongering by using cherry-picked anecdotes. They instead point to how little impact posting bail had — or did not have — on those who weren’t rearrested.

Data shows 16.8% of those who weren’t rearrested posted bail compared to 15.4% of those who did not post bail. In other words, bail was 1.3% more effective at preventing future crime. Julian Harris-Calvin, program director at the Vera Institute of Justice, said those arrested are still presumed innocent.

“Someone who can go home, continue working, continue to take care of your children and not lose your children, not lose your job, not lose your public benefits, not lose your educational opportunities,” she said

Still too soon to tell

Researchers who study crime data and who have been watching the political dialogue around the release of the data are alarmed.

“The research community, broadly, is extremely troubled,” said Michael Rempel, director of jail reform at the government-backed Center for Court Innovation. He is the incoming director of the Data Collaborative for Justice at John Jay College.

“Most of the prior research on this topic has found that while detaining people can depress the rearrest rates in the first place, it actually increases rearrest rates in the long run,” Rempel said.

Rempel said a year and a half of data is simply not enough time to really judge the impact of bail reform.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, and a National Murrow. He was also a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and Third Coast Director’s Choice Award.