April 12, 2020.
The past two weeks saw contrasting approaches from two blue states regarding how to manage large inmate populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. In California, the Judicial Council held an emergency meeting last week to vote on and adopt a series of measures to alleviate the judicial emergency in California. The Council passed temporary rules freezing evictions and foreclosures, expanding video conferences for court proceedings, and, significantly, setting bail at $0 for most misdemeanor offenses and low-level felonies.
The week before, the state of New York recently rolled back a few of the changes passed in last year’s landmark bail reform legislation, which limited the number of crimes for which prosecutors could detain defendants. While most of the 2019 reforms survived coordinated attacks from state district attorneys, police departments, conservative politicians, and Governor Andrew Cuomo, some measures were watered down. Prosecutors were given more time to respond to defendants’ requests for discovery and expanded discretion to withhold some discovery materials from defendants who are alleged gang-members. The law also added at least 15 new offenses to the category of offenses for which a defendant could be incarcerated before trial. The New York legislation comes as the jail at Rikers Island continues to release inmates given a severe outbreak of COVID-19 and poor conditions at the jail.
Read about the California measures here.
Read about the specifics of New York’s bail reforms here.