Reforming Bail Reform is Long Overdue

Frank Abrokwa was arrested late last month for throwing waste into the face of a woman waiting for a subway in the Bronx. Last year, he shouted antisemitic slurs and spat on a Jewish man in Crown Heights.

Released the day of his arrest, he was caught the very next day for allegedly shoplifting at a hardware store and threatening employees with a screwdriver. Police sources told the New York Post that Abrokwa has 22 prior unsealed arrests dating back to 1999, aside from dozens of sealed arrests.

The accused is now free again on “supervised release,” which the Brooklyn District Attorney says is the most he could ask for under the current New York State bail reform law.

Coming on the heels of the recent subway shoving death of one woman and the stabbing death of another in Chinatown, which murders, themselves, followed the shooting deaths of two NYPD officers and the killing of a teenage fast food worker in Upper Manhattan, the releases of Mr. Abrokwa have given new fuel to demands to reform New York’s bail reform law.

In 2020, the state eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges. The impetus for the new law was understandable. Before it was enacted, thousands of New Yorkers languished in jail without being convicted of a crime simply because they could not afford to pay bail. Overall, bail reform lessened the role of cash bail in New York’s criminal legal system and led to significantly fewer people behind bars.

But the law doesn’t allow a judge to set bail for a person accused of a relatively minor crime even when the accused’s record indicates that he is a recidivist criminal and may pose a danger to society.

That year, after the bail reform law was enacted, we editorialized that, while “reasonable prison reform, including requiring that bail not be set for people accused of truly minor crimes … is a worthy idea … [it] can be achieved without people who are reasonably considered dangerous to others being released against a judge’s better judgment.”

And the yield of the bail reform law is disturbingly illuminating, as Mr. Abrokwa’s case shows.

Although the degree of bail reform’s impact on rising crime in New York can’t be easily identified, major crime in New York City has in fact skyrocketed. As reported by our correspondent Reuvain Borchardt in these pages last week, last month alone saw a sizable increase in every major-crime category as compared with February 2021, according to the NYPD.

The spike was led by auto theft, robbery, burglary, felony assault and murder. Hate-crime complaints also soared last month, with a 189% increase from the period of Feb. 1 to Feb. 27 compared with the same period last year. Complaints of antisemitic incidents increased by more than 400%, from 11 to 56. Complaints of anti-Asian incidents rose 125%, from four to nine; and anti-Black incidents doubled, from eight to sixteen.

In New York City between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, 26,535 people were arrested for a felony. Fully 69% of them had a prior conviction or a pending case. 4,062 of these defendants were released under the current bail law; 1,737, or 43%, of them were rearrested while their cases were pending.

Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain who won election last November after a campaign largely focused on public safety, has announced initiatives to combat subway and gun crime, including barring homeless people from living in the subway system, and bringing back a modified version of an anti-gun NYPD unit that was disbanded under former Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

Most importantly, Mayor Adams has also sought, so far unsuccessfully, to get state legislators to agree to further rollbacks of the 2019 law that restricted judges’ abilities to impose cash bail.

After the most recent release of Mr. Abrokwa, Mayor Adams said, “This individual should not be out on the streets of New York and his release shows the scope of changes that we need to make in order to keep New Yorkers safe.” He went on to blame “a failed mental health system, a failed housing and support system, and failing criminal justice laws that allow someone with a history of violence who poses a clear threat to public safety to just walk out of court.”

The Mayor is right. And we implore the legislature in Albany to recognize that fact and fix a well intentioned but poorly written law — for the sake of protecting New York’s innocent residents.

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