Assessing the Potential Impact of 2020 Bail Reforms on 2019 New York City Criminal Court Cases

Between April 2019 and April 2020, New York State passed two sets of reforms to the laws governing bail. The first set of reforms (“Original Reforms”), which went into effect on January 1, 2020, prohibited judges from setting money bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Additional details about these reforms can be found in DCJ’s research brief, Assessing Potential Impacts of 2020 Bail Reforms in New York City. In April 2020, the state legislature amended the bail reforms (“Amended Reforms”) by moving certain charges that had been made ineligible for bail under the Original Reforms back into the category of charges where judges have discretion to set bail.

For this report, DCJ analyzed how the Original Reforms and the Amended Reforms would have impacted pretrial releases for 2019 criminal cases in New York City. The report provides findings about how pretrial outcomes, including the number and proportion of cases where bail was set, would have changed under the Original and Amended Reforms. It also provides analyses of how outcomes would have differed by borough, by charge types, and by demographics (race/ethnicity, sex, and age).

Future research from DCJ will examine the actual impacts of bail reform on release outcomes in 2020. DCJ will also examine pretrial release outcomes and how they have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, nationwide protests calling for policing and criminal legal system reforms, and rising rates of certain types of violent crime in New York City.

Key Findings

  • Had the Amended Reforms been in place in 2019;
    • Overall Release Outcomes: 12,609 additional cases would no longer have been eligible for money bail (“non-monetary releases”). This represents a cumulative reduction of almost $67 million in bail set.
    •  Borough: 4,415 additional cases would have resulted in non-monetary release in Manhattan – the borough in which cases would be most impacted by bail reform.
    • Bail and Charge Type: 2,247 additional non-marijuana related drug cases would have resulted in monetary release – thereby increasing the percentage of cases involving drugs (other than marijuana) released without bail from 76% to 97%.
    • Race: 6,606 additional cases involving Black individuals that would have resulted in release without bail, and nearly 4,000 cases involving Latinx individuals.
  • Impacts of Amended vs. Original Reforms on 2019 NYC Criminal Cases;
    • Overall Release Outcomes: Under the Original 2020 Bail Reforms, an additional 14,174 cases would no longer have been eligible for bail, compared to 12,609 under the Amended Reforms,
    • Age and Racial Disparities: The difference in additional cases released without bail between the two sets of reforms is greatest among men, Black and Hispanic people, and 25-34-year-olds. There is a 1.4 percentage point increase among men, a 2.7 percentage point increase among Black and Hispanic people, and a 10.3 percentage point increase among 25-34-year-olds.

This report was originally issued in January, 2021, and revised on February 3, 2021, to incorporate changes in DCJ’s coding of charge categories. Details about the changes to the original report can be found here.