Two Years In: 2020 Bail Reforms in Action in New York State

On January 1, 2020, landmark reforms governing bail and pretrial release decisions went into effect in New York State. The new laws eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, required judges to consider people’s ability to pay in cases still legally eligible for bail, and included a new presumption of release on recognizance in all cases except when an individual poses a “risk of flight.” Amendments to the reforms went into effect in July 2020, moving some charges that had become ineligible for bail back into the bail-eligible category. 

With support from Arnold Ventures, we assessed the statewide impact of the reforms on judicial decision-making, affordability of bail, and racial disparities two years post-implementation. As in a previous Data Collaborative for Justice study examining changes in the first year of reform (2020), this report includes data for city and district courts in all 62 counties of New York State. 

Key Findings:

  • Arraignment Volume: From 2019 to 2020, felony and misdemeanor arraignments in New York State fell by 40% followed by a 17% increase in 2021.
  • Pretrial Release Decisions:
    • Less Bail and Remand Under Reform: Overall, judges’ use of bail or remand declined by 8 percentage points from 2019 to 2020; and then stayed at around 20% in both 2020 and 2021.
    •  Large 2021 Declines in ROR: Although ROR remained high in 2021, ROR fell by 7 percentage points among violent (from 29% to 22%) and non-violent felonies (from 54% to 47%), and by 4 points among misdemeanors (from 85% to 81%). 

    • Regional Differences. Generally, judges in NYC were less likely to order bail or remand than in Upstate or Suburban NYC across all three years examined, with the greatest differences among violent felonies. 

    • Net Increases in Bail/Remand During Implementation for Specific Violent Felony Charges. Rates of bail or remand for robbery and burglary, sex offenses, homicide, and felony weapon charges increased when comparing the initial months of 2020 to the end of 2021 – robbery and burglary and weapons cases saw the greatest net increase within the bail implementation period. 

  • Bail Amounts and Payment: Judges statewide set higher bail amounts, and people became less likely to pay bail at arraignment (from 26% to 18%) in the 2020-to-2021 implementation period.
  • Racial Disparities: While all racial/ethnic groups saw their lowest rates of bail or remand in the first quarter of 2020 and higher rates thereafter, Black people faced consistently higher rates of bail or remand in both 2020 and 2021 compared to Latinx and white people.