Don’t let fear-mongering about bail reform make things worse!

February 2, 2020

People are being scared about the new bail reform statute. What they are not being told is that the new statute doesn’t leave the public less safe and isn’t responsible for much of the crime it’s getting blamed for.

Bail means that people can get out of jail so long as they can buy a bond. All bail statutes involve some risk of what defendants may do while out on bail. The worst criminals, the ones who have garnered the most ill-gotten gains, have the least problem getting out. But the public is not being told when the defendant would have been out anyway.

Under previous statutes, judges imposed bail based on the likelihood that defendants would run away. But the bail reform statute defines situations where there is reason for concern about public safety and provides for electronic monitoring and other restrictions in those instances, restrictions that keep people from causing trouble.

So the new statute is not likely to let people loose who would have been confined under the old statute and who shouldn’t have been under the new one.

What the old statute did was to make it impossible for poorer people to hire an attorney – in jail they couldn’t earn anything to pay for lawyers, or feed their families.

DA’s liked the old statute – they could force people to plead guilty just so they could get out and try to earn a living. That’s been a scandal well known among lawyers.

And as for discovery, most lawyers in cases in all other fields have to tell the other side what they’ve got in the way of evidence. And if there’s any reason for a defendant to be scared, there are ways judges can deal with it.

Don’t be scared by misinformation.

And don’t forget the benefits. Actually we are safer when we don’t unnecessarily destroy lives, make people less able to support themselves and their families – that drives people to desperation, and it leaves their kids feeling hopeless which drives lots of counter-productive behavior. Hopelessness causes kids to drop out of school or go on drugs or both, with horrific consequences for all of us. Don’t let fear-mongering make things worse when we are on the verge on ending the scourge of mass incarceration and all the costs and damage that has been causing.

For more information, a couple of excellent articles are by Emily Bazelon and Insha Rahman, There’s a Strong Case for Sticking With Bail Reform; and by the author, John Grisham, Bail laws a lesson in New York’s strong leadership. The statute is lengthy and the currently available version includes many provisions in unrelated areas of law; it begins at page 109.

 

 


Sloppy Thinking About Gun Control

November 14, 2017

After the car ran down people in lower Manhattan, I read an article about making streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with the author’s suggestions but I want to make a point about arguments for and against. One could say that people with bad intentions will just find other ways to kill lots of people. True or false? Actually it’s completely misleading. How many people with bad intentions will find other ways and how many won’t? How many people will do as much damage to as many people and how many won’t? The statement that some will doesn’t tell you. And the claim that all will is pure nonsense.

In the early 70s, I was a manager of the New York City legal services program, then known as Community Action for Legal Services or CALS. We had twenty-two offices around the city. All of them were in the poorest and most crime-ridden areas of the city. And in those pre-computer days, many of them had IBM Selectric typewriters which made our staff much more efficient but were expensive. Some thieves craved them. In our East New York office there had been a series of burglaries. After each we hardened the office against further break-ins. But those thieves were determined. Unable to get through the doors, they blew a hole through the wall and took the typewriters.

Obviously some thieves will use explosives. Should we have concluded that we might as well remove the locks on the doors of our twenty-one other offices? Plainly no. Nor would I recommend that you remove the locks from the doors of your homes. Nor would I recommend that you take all the shades and drapes down became peeping toms will find a way around them. Thinking about problems without examining how many, and what proportion of people will do how much damage is just sloppy thinking.

The NRA tells us that bad people will get guns. That statement is neither right nor wrong. If they mean some bad people will get guns no matter what we do, that is clearly true. But if they mean that whatever measures we take will not reduce the number of bad people who can get powerful weapons, that is clearly false. And they can’t tell us anything realistic about the proportions because they convinced Congress to block research into the effect of possible regulation of weapons. So they make sloppy statements hoping you’ll be taken in.

The Founders of our country were not so sloppy and they did lots to regulate guns – the most significant of which was to prohibit people from keeping ammunition in their homes. Ammunition exploded and caused fires so it had to be kept in public armories. Regulation mattered and they knew it.

So when people try to tell you what regulation will or won’t do, don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes with sloppy nonsense. Some regulations work better than others. That’s a valuable subject of research and study, not an occasion for sloppy all-or-nothing claims.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, Nov. 14, 2017.

 

 


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