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Progressive Jewish groups oppose plan to change New York’s bail reform law

A group of progressive rabbis and Jewish groups are calling on New York lawmakers to reject the governor’s plan to tweak the state’s new bail reform law in a budget deal expected to be passed by Monday. The governor’s plan would restore bail requirements for people accused of hate crimes.

“As Jews, we are called to care for the most vulnerable,” the leftist Jewish groups said in a statement, “and political decisions that further crush Black, brown or poor New Yorkers, call all of us to account.” The statement was signed by groups including the New York Jewish Agenda; Jews for Racial and Economic Justice; Bend the Arc of Riverdale and Long Island; T’ruah: the Rabbinical Call for Human Rights; and others.

New York’s bail reform law, enacted last year, eliminated cash bail for those charged with misdemeanors and some felonies, including non-violent hate crimes. Those offenses now are handled by summonses issued by police officers to appear in criminal court. The change ignited a debate because some Jewish leaders feared it would embolden antisemites, and a recent increase in hate crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions has renewed scrutiny of the law.

In the proposal Gov. Kathy Hochul sent to lawmakers last week hate crimes would once again become subject to bail. An administration official said the plan is a “direct response” to the rise in antisemitism and anti-Asian attacks. Mayor Eric Adams of New York City backs the change.

The administration briefed community leaders about the plan in a virtual call earlier this week, but the Jewish groups that signed the statement came away disappointed.

“This approach is a distraction from what is actually known to reduce crime – increased access to affordable housing, educational and economic opportunities, and better mental health care,” they said. “This year’s budget should be a place to invest in evidence-based programs to support New Yorkers, not invest in failed policies of mass incarceration.”

A recent poll showed that an overwhelming majority of New Yorkers – 82% – think the bail reform law should be amended to give judges more discretion to set bail based on the seriousness of the crime or the individual’s criminal record. That includes 85% of Jews in New York.

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