Eric Adams` Complaints About Bail Reform Fall on Deaf Ears, and for Good Reason
New York City Mayor Eric Adams headed to Albany to complain to lawmakers about bail reform efforts that he says has caused a crime wave in his city. But his complaints fell on deaf ears, and for good reason: Bail reform isn`t the real problem.
Thousands of people are released on bail every day for all kinds of crimes. But the media focuses on the handful who commit new crimes while on bail, calling for a “tough-on-crime” approach and saying that if these people were kept locked up they couldn`t commit new crimes.
If only things were that easy.
The problem has many layers: Ineffective bail screening that allows high-risk people to be released on bail, ineffective monitoring of risky people out on bail, and the false belief that locking up people actually deters crime. It`s that last erroneous belief that prevents a solution.
The myth that locking people up prevents crime has not only been debunked by experts, but it hinders what actually does work. There`s an interesting psychological response to things that we fear: In our desperation to be safe, we think there`s only one solution and it`s often an extreme one. In our hysteria we fail to see that there`s lots of options, and if we would just calm down a minute those options would become more clear.
An Option the Experts Say Doesn`t Work: Keeping People Locked Up
The National Institute of Justice published a report in 2016 on the ineffectiveness of prisons and jails in preventing crime. Here are some of the key findings.
The best crime deterrent is the fear of being caught: “The certainty of being caught is a vastly more powerful deterrent than the punishment,” the report`s authors say. “Research shows clearly that the chance of being caught is a vastly more effective deterrent than even draconian punishment.”
The experts found that the threat of punishment isn`t usually a deterrent to someone deciding to commit a crime. However, the fear of getting caught works. But it has to be a real possibility of getting caught, and not some remote chance.
A criminal is more likely to be influenced by seeing a police officer with handcuffs and a radio than by a new law increasing penalties.
Locking people up doesn`t work: “Sending an individual convicted of a crime to prison isn`t a very effective way to deter crime,” the experts said. “Prison sentences (particularly long sentences) are unlikely to deter future crime.”
While this study focused on the ineffectiveness of locking up criminals for a long time, it equally applies to the nonsense that people charged with a crime should be locked up without bail. Warehousing people in jails and prisons to prevent crime is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound: It stops the bleeding from the small entry wound, but the internal damage is what kills the person. [I was a firefighter/paramedic for 20 years in a busy city, I saw my share of gunshot wounds.]
Now, Let`s be Honest ……
When people say that high bail amounts (or the outright denial of bail) prevents crime, what are they really saying? It`s well-known that Black people, minorities, and low-income earners are usually the ones who get stuck in jail because they can`t pay even the slightest amount of bail. These people are often living paycheck to paycheck and don`t have the ability to post bail or bond.
So what are these people really saying? That Blacks, minorities, and poor people are committing the crimes out there and need to be locked up. Sound crazy? The whole point of so-called bail reform was to stop the abuse of these people in the criminal justice system.
Who`s to Blame?
Who`s to blame for the crime wave gripping the nation? Is it really the people that were released on bail due to the reforms? Of course not. Are we the only country dealing with a crime wave right now? How conceited if we think we`re the only nation dealing with this problem. It`s not bail reform that caused the crime wave, but a combination of unforeseeable things that created this mess: COVID-19, the economic impact on people and businesses because of the pandemic, reduced policing. All of it plays a role.
But, as usual, this country thinks that locking up its residents will fix everything. We are, however, the only country that believes that.