After meetings with state lawmakers, Adams says ‘criminal justice,’ not just bail reform, is needed

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Following an afternoon of closed-door meetings with state legislative leaders, Mayor Eric Adams said that while he’s seeking changes to “criminal justice reforms” in the state budget for this fiscal year — due April 1, it’s up to Albany lawmakers to determine if the rollbacks to bail reform Governor Kathy Hochul is seeking should be enacted.

Hochul’s bail proposal seeks to eliminate the so-called “least restrictive standard,” which requires judges to use the least restrictive methods for getting defendants to show up to court, in order to clear up what she’s characterized as confusion among judges about which crimes are bail eligible.

Rather than simply focussing on further tweaks to the state’s reformed cash bail laws, hizzoner said he’s looking for more comprehensive criminal justice measures, such as getting more funding for prosecutors’ offices and defense attorneys to help “unbottleneck” the courts.

“I’ve said this over and over again, and I’m going to continue to say it, criminal justice reform is not just bail. Everyone likes that bumper sticker of bail,” Adams told reporters in the state Capitol Monday afternoon.

“We have to unbottleneck our system and I am not going to allow people to focus on one terminology that’s not going to be a magic bullet,” he added. “I think that the lawmakers up here are going to deliberate over exactly what’s going to happen on [the least restrictive standard] and it’s up to them to come to a final solution on that. But I’m focussed on the entire criminal justice apparatus that we picked apart and saw where the bottlenecking is taking place.”

Both state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have shown little appetite to make further changes to the bail laws, which were reformed in 2019 to eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Neither of the legislative leaders included Hochul’s proposed rollback, or any further changes to the pretrial detention laws, in their own budget plans.

But, according to a new poll from Siena College that came out Monday, a majority of New Yorkers — 76% — support Hochul’s bid to nix the least restrictive standard.

When asked about a report that negotiations surrounding bail reform between Hochul’s and Heastie’s staffs temporarily broke down over the weekend, the mayor didn’t comment on the kerfuffle but characterized his own conversation with the governor on bail reform as “excellent.”

“I had an excellent conversation with the governor and I think the governor is probably the best to determine if it’s a good conversation or bad conversation she had with the lawmakers,” he said. “I had a great conversation with her, you know, I never disclose private conversations.”