Women, LGBTQ, and Survivor Advocates Speak Out in Support of Bail Reform

PRESS RELEASE — FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 4, 2019

Women, LGBTQ, and Survivor Advocates Speak Out in Support of Bail Reform

Women & LGBTQ People Harmed by New York’s Unjust Bail System Joined by Survivor Advocates and Legislators to Urge Immediate Action on Bail, Discovery, and Speedy Trial

ALBANY, NY – Today – at the start of Women’s History month – women, LGBTQ people, and survivors of intimate partner violence urged New York State’s legislature to take immediate action and pass bail, discovery and speedy trial legislation. They were joined by high-ranking women legislators in the Senate and Assembly, and together, called for the passage of three critical bills: the Bail Elimination Act, the Discovery for Justice Reform Act and Speedy Trial Reform.

Advocates and people impacted by the injustices of New York’s current pretrial system spoke out regarding the specific harm inflicted by money bail, the withholding of evidence, and the lack of speedy trial protections on women, LGBTQ communities and survivors. In doing so, they drew on the organizing work of gender justice and survivor advocacy groups who have published statements in support of bail and discovery reform in the past few months.

These organizations have argued that for far too long, New Yorkers, including survivors of intimate partner violence and sexual violence, have been criminalized and punished without ever having access to the evidence in their cases due to New York’s archaic discovery laws. They also contend that money bail leads to the pretrial incarceration of survivors, and that the arrest and criminalization of survivors disproportionately occurs when survivors are women of color, low-income, or LGBTQ.

During the rally, advocates criticized the District Attorneys Association of New York (DAASNY) for falsely claiming that bail and discovery reform threaten the safety of survivors of assault and abuse, pointing to the clear protections for survivors and witnesses in the proposed legislation. Advocates also reminded the legislature that pretrial jailing is fundamentally unsafe, as evident in the crisis at MDC Detention Center in Brooklyn this past month.

In honor of Women’s History Month, advocates, impacted people and legislators called on the New York State’s Legislature to stand strong for justice and pass the Bail Elimination Act, the Discovery for Justice Reform Act and Speedy Trial Reform today.

Elected Leaders & Advocates at the event said the following:

“Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) has been speaking up alongside girls of color and gender non-conforming youth of color since 2001.  We have advocated for systems change alongside young people who survive child sexual abuse, intimate partner violence, and other forms of gender based violence.  Mass incarceration has never kept women, girls, and non-binary youth safe. Survivors – and especially young survivors – need access to housing, social work services, basic services within their communities, and financial resources to escape harmful relationships. We are leading the call for New York  to invest in the programs which support the brave young women, and non-binary youth who come forward and say that they have experienced violence – rather than the punitive systems that keep them and their families locked out of a path to living self-determined lives.” – Ashley Sawyer, Director of Policy at Girls for Gender Equity

I know firsthand that New York’s current bail, discovery and speedy trial laws actively harm the victims of domestic violence. Although I was the survivor of an abusive marriage, when the police arrived at my apartment, I was the person arrested. At my arraignment, the judge set bail for $25,000. Unable to afford this bail and unwilling to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit, I spent two years incarcerated in the Westchester County jail pretrial. In that time, I lost everything, including custody of my two young children. After two years with no trial on the calendar and no turnover of evidence, I could see only one way out: I took a plea deal. There is no justice here and New York’s legislature must act immediately to overhaul these laws.” – Priscilla Echi, member of JustLeadershipUSA and a leader of the FREEnewyork Campaign.

“We know that the criminal justice system tends to come down hardest on people of color, LGBTQ women, and even survivors and that goes for the bail system also. Somehow we have forgotten the essential concept of innocent until proven guilty when we keep people in jail before trial just because they can’t afford bail. This reform is way past overdue. We must enact bail and discovery reform this session.” – State Senator Alessandra Baiggi

“Every New Yorker should have the confidence that when they interact with our justice system, they will receive exactly that – justice. But for too many of the most vulnerable and marginalized New Yorkers, the opposite is true. Survivors of intimate partner violence, especially women of color and LGBTQ people, who have turned to the police and the courts for help, often find themselves treated like criminals. Reforming our bail and discovery processes, and delivering the Constitutionally guaranteed right to a speedy trial, will go a long way toward creating a justice system that lives up to its name.” – State Senator Liz Krueger

“When I was arrested, my mother couldn’t afford to bail me out because she also had to take care of my daughter and didn’t have enough money left over. When I was in jail, they put me in solitary confinement. While I was there I broke my ankle in two places in the tiny little cage they let us have rec in. The criminal justice system needs to be straightened up. Jail is no place for especially women, or really anybody else at all.” – Jovada Senhouse, Community Leader at VOCAL-NY.

“Today is a reminder that we cannot become complacent. Yes, we have made progress but we have so much left to do to address our broken criminal justice system including bail, discovery and speedy trial reforms. The injustices in our system have far-reaching consequences. It is so important that people understand this is not an abstract issue. I thank the individuals who had the courage to come and speak to the impact of these broken laws” – State Senator Velmanette Montgomery

“Every year, families are torn apart because the matriarch has been incarcerated awaiting trial and children are thrown into the foster care system simply because of unreasonably high bail and criteria set by private bail bonds that are impossible to meet for most minority families or the lack of speedy trial laws to expedite their process. The time for change is now. The time for real reform that creates a criminal justice system that is fair for all New Yorkers is now.” – State Assemblywoman Latrice Walker

“As the mom of a brilliant twelve-year-old son, I know the pain and injustice of New York’s bail system. In 2016, I was arrested. Although I am on a fixed income of $695, the judge set bail for $1,000 cash or $1,000 bond. To be able to care for my son, I had to pay a bail bondsman $350. Where did this money come from? Out of my rent check. Though the case was ultimately dismissed, I am still in debt to the bail bondsman. New York’s legislature must act with urgency as our communities are suffering right now. We call on the Assembly and Senate to pass the Bail Elimination Act and the Discovery for Justice Reform Act today.” – Thern Shivers, member of JustLeadershipUSA and a leader of the FREEnewyork Campaign.

Alexander Bryden

alexander@justleadershipusa.org

908.400.7056