Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a plan to triple the number of teen defendants released without bail in a move likely aimed at one-upping his archrival, Gov. Cuomo, who has also been busy “reforming” the bail process.
Hizzoner’s latest brainstorm could prove especially dangerous. He hopes to achieve his goal by expanding the scope of eligibility for a supervised-release program reserved for defendants between the ages of 16 and 19. Soon, even those charged with first- and second-degree robbery, assault and burglary will qualify for the city’s Youth Engagement Track — that is, bail-free release from custody while their cases are pending.
Teenage robbers, violent assailants and burglars aren’t a low-risk population, and there will likely be a price tag attached to a policy of leniency when it comes to handling such cases. So why is the mayor pulling this lever now? The answer is twofold.
First, de Blasio’s plan to close Rikers Island calls for reducing the city’s jail population to 5,000 inmates. In a column last year, I posited that this goal couldn’t be achieved without putting more serious and violent offenders on the street.
Though the city has drastically reduced its jail population over the years — it was more than 17,000 in 1998 and cut down to about 8,800 by last summer — it seems that we have run out of “lower-level” offenders to release or divert from detention. This isn’t just my assessment. The de Blasio administration has been essentially saying as much since 2017.
As I’ve noted in these pages, New York’s jail violence has been rising. Despite the population being essentially cut in half since 1998, violence among inmates has nearly doubled.
Asked for explanation, de Blasio & Co.’s standard excuse has been that “successful efforts to divert low-risk, nonviolent offenders,” have left behind a population of inmates who “tend to be more violent and difficult to manage,” as the 2017 Mayor’s Management Report put it.
That’s not all. Per the same report, “young adults . . . have historically been involved in disproportionately more violent incidents” in Big Apple jails. But never you mind.
Further highlighting the incapacitation benefits of pretrial detention for violent criminals is a Bureau of Justice Statistics study showing that, between 1990 and 2002, 12 percent of violent felons convicted in America’s largest urban counties committed their offense while “on release pending disposition of a prior case.”
Even so, de Blasio is plowing ahead with a policy that will help get the jail population down to where he says it needs to be. After all, the “woke” left would see closing Rikers as a major victory — a win that might come in handy for a mayor looking to stand out in a crowded Democratic primary field.
Which brings us to the second answer to the question of why he is moving forward with this policy.
Many on the Democratic Left (and, increasingly, some on the Republican Right) subscribe to the view that the criminal-justice system is racist and overly punitive. As a result, many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have taken up this issue as a way to establish their “progressive” bona fides and to call their opponents’ social-justice credentials into question.
De Blasio may very well be using his authority to enact “reforms” to the same end.
Supporters of de Blasio’s teen initiative will be quick to point out that judges will retain their discretion to decide whether the more serious teenage offenders will be diverted from pretrial detainment.
But as The Post reported this week, many judges “fear they will have to adopt de Blasio’s new, more lenient standards or risk losing their jobs.” And let’s not forget that there are a number of city judges who welcome any opportunity to go soft on such offenders with open arms.
The most prominent of the mayor’s prior reforms aimed at younger offenders has been his decision to take punitive segregation — better known as solitary confinement — off the table for jail inmates under 21.
That policy led to more violence committed by younger inmates, which has driven much of the increase in the city’s overall jail violence. Despite acknowledging that “higher rates of fights” were in part “a result of reducing and eventually eliminating punitive segregation,” the mayor has stayed that course in the name of “equity,” and is going further down that road in pursuit of the same with his bail plan.
Rafael Mangual is a fellow and deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute.
Source: Read Full Article