Mayor Eric Adams used his State of the City address on Thursday to reprise one of his favorite ditties: asking lawmakers to adjust the state’s criminal justice reform laws.
“Our legal system must ensure that dangerous people are kept off the streets, innocent people are not consumed by bureaucracy, and victims can obtain resolution,” he said. “This is something we can all agree on. Let’s get it done in 2023.”
Adams is focused on two laws that took effect in recent years: one that bars judges from setting bail for nonviolent crimes in most cases and another that adds requirements for prosecutors to share evidence with defense attorneys.
The mayor has frequently critiqued these two policies — also known as bail and discovery reform — and tied them to rising crime in recent years. But researchers have cast doubt on that theory, citing factors like a nationwide crime spike during the pandemic. State data has also revealed little difference in rearrest rates from before and after the reforms took effect.
Last year, the state agreed to tweak to the bail reform law after months of lobbying from the mayor. But Adams has continued his pleas, pressing legislators to do more to stop people from committing new crimes after an arrest.
In his speech, Adams said he wants to target 1,700 people he claims are responsible for a disproportionate number of the city’s violent crimes.
“We all agree that no one should be in jail simply because they can’t afford to post bail,” he said. “But we should also agree that we cannot allow a small number of violent individuals to continue terrorizing our neighbors over and over again.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed her own changes to the state’s bail laws in her State of the State speech earlier this month. She wants lawmakers to get rid of a requirement for judges to set the “least restrictive” measures to ensure that someone accused of a crime returns to court.
“The bail reform law as written now leaves room for improvement,” she said. “As leaders, we can’t ignore that when we hear so often from New Yorkers that crime is their top concern.”
The mayor also said he wants to increase funding for discovery, to ensure prosecutors and defense attorneys have the resources they need to expedite cases and share information more quickly and easily. He asked state lawmakers to help streamline the legal process.
The Legal Aid Society called Adams’ proposal for more discovery money “welcome news” but opposed any rollbacks to state law. The public defender organization also asked the mayor to allocate additional funding for a salary boost, saying that they are “hemorrhaging” staff and struggling to attract new attorneys for little pay.
“Mayor Adams frequently references the need for a fully functioning legal system, and we are very much a part of that system, representing some of New York City’s most vulnerable residents,” the Legal Aid Society said in a press release. “For the wheels of justice to turn, all of our needs must be met.”
Along with updates to bail and discovery reform, Adams announced several other plans aimed at improving public safety in the coming year, including:
- Deploying more NYPD Neighborhood Safety Teams and community-based violence prevention program in neighborhoods with high levels of violent crime
- Launching a “Neighborhood Safety Alliance” that brings together police precincts, service providers and community leaders to address violence
- Partnering NYPD crime prevention units with business improvement districts to prevent retail theft
- Hosting crime data meetings, called CompStat, in local communities, instead of just behind closed doors at One Police Plaza