Community Leaders and Residents Welcomed the End of a Pretrial System that Has Devastated Families and Communities

Albany, NY — On Human Rights Day, the Capital District community joined statewide rallies to celebrate historic pretrial reforms and welcome the end of a system that has devastated families and communities. Local leaders were joined by faith leaders and directly impacted residents in front of the Rensselaer County Courthouse. 

In 2018, over 22,000 New Yorkers languished in jail each night. Nearly 70% were awaiting trial — they had not been convicted, but were behind bars because they could not afford bail. The pretrial system violated the presumption of innocence, criminalized low-income people, and led to the coercion of plea deals. 

Going into effect on January 1, new bail and discovery laws passed this year will help protect the pretrial freedom and constitutional rights of thousands of New Yorkers. Pretrial reform will help legally innocent people await trial from home with their families, allow them to keep their jobs and homes, and make our communities safer.

“On January 1, when the new pretrial laws go into effect, something unprecedented will happen in New York. Thousands of legally innocent people will be able to await their day in court from home, instead of suffering in jail simply because they cannot afford the price tag on their freedom. For decades, mass incarceration has devastated Black, Brown, and low-income communities, while the wealthy are released for the exact same charges. Our new bail and discovery laws will level the playing field. For the first time in this state’s history, discovery law will require that people arrested under a racist and discriminatory system are not blindsided by prosecutors and coerced into plea deals by allowing everyone — regardless of income — to access evidence early in the case, like almost every other state in the country. These are critical steps toward transforming our justice system and advancing true community safety and wellness,” said Erin George, Civil Rights Campaigns Director for Citizen Action of New York.

“Last year, New York took an important step in reforming the state’s criminal discovery and bail system, giving people more access to evidence that will be presented against them and limiting our reliance on money bail. These reforms will have a tremendous impact on thousands of New Yorkers and see far fewer people jailed before they see a judge simply because of the size of their bank account. New York cannot afford to reverse course and follow a handful of politicians who insist that criminalizing poverty is justice,” said Melanie Trimble, New York Civil Liberties Union, Capital Region Chapter.

“The cash bail, discovery, and speedy trial reforms passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor will go into effect on January 1. These bills were intended to ensure that those accused of crimes are not languishing in jail because they cannot afford bail, that their defense has access to the evidence to advocate for their clients, and that trials are handled expeditiously. The efforts to modify these laws to prevent equal justice under the law or prevent the laws from going into effect are based on an overblown concern about public safety, combined with a distaste that defendants would have the right to due process. We need to stand up for these just laws to arrest the cycle of mass incarceration and stop making impoverished people even more impoverished,” said Reverend Peter Cook, Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches.

“Not in my name, not in the name of survivors in this county and across the state, will we allow District Attorneys to talk about ending violence against women and other crimes by promoting jails, courthouses and law enforcement as the answer to prevent these crimes,” said Luz Marquez Benbow, Member of Justice for Dahmeek, and an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, rape, and incest.

“Instead of trying to stop these reforms and put more of our young people in jail, the District Attorneys should hold public officials and police accountable to the same standards as they hold the people in my community. How are we going to teach our children to respect the law when they see that police officers can literally get away with murder?” said Messiah James Cooper, Member of Justice for Dahmeek, and uncle of Troy police shooting survivor Dahmeek McDonald.

“On this Human Rights Day, I am happy for the accomplishments of bail and discovery reforms. We are making great strides toward justice,” said Surraine Thomas, Member of Citizen Action of New York.