TIME: John Legend & Michael Gianaris: How New York’s Bail System Makes Innocent People Less Safe

John Legend and Michael Gianaris

March 22, 2019

Originally published in Time Magazine on March 22, 2019.

We all want to feel safe. People look to the criminal justice system to provide that feeling, but for many Americans, the system only offers an illusion of safety. For marginalized communities who wake up each day with the fear of being targeted by police or having their constitutional rights violated by imprisonment without due process, the system is, in fact, a threat to their safety.

The time has come for us to create a justice system that upholds safety for all communities. That starts with overhauling New York’s bail law in order to end mass incarceration — as must be done across the nation. While there are a number of competing proposals being debated by the Governor and State legislature, the bail reform bill that ultimately passes must meet the principles that advocates outlined in their letter to the Governor.

New York’s pretrial system, as it currently functions, represents a great threat to communities across New York State. Every day, about 14,000 unconvicted people sit in jails across the state awaiting trial, many simply because they cannot afford their bail. If they could, they would be released to the community to fight their case from home — with better access to legal representation, supports and services. This harms legally innocent people who are forced into jail cells and cannot pay to leave them like others do; it also harms their families and the broader public. Research shows that when people are held in jail while awaiting trial, they are more likely to become unemployed or re-involved in the criminal justice system in the future. New York’s money bail law is therefore fundamentally unjust. People who lack the funds to afford bail should not have their freedom taken from them and their futures compromised, while rich people can walk free. People should not be coerced into taking plea deals because not doing so means they could sit needless days and months in a cell, separated from their family and missing work.

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