Religious leaders defend bail reform in face of pushback

Feb 25, 2020

Members of Roc/ACTS at Baber AME Church discussing bail reform.
Credit James Brown / WXXI News

Members of Roc/ACTS, a group of local religious leaders, expressed their continued support of New York’s bail reform laws on Tuesday.

The Rev. James Simmons of Baber AME Baptist Church said the reforms are misunderstood and those calling for the law to be repealed never gave it a chance.

“Persons who profit from the incarceration of persons came out against bail reform far before the Jan. 1 enactment,” said Simmons.

The law severely limits which crimes require cash bail. That includes most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes. Critics say releasing people with appearance tickets versus releasing them on bail could remove any incentive for them to appear in court -- or even give them the opportunity to commit other crimes. Some say the law should be put on hold and reconsidered.

But Simmons said bail is a question of class, not crime.

“And so we find that this has created two separate systems, two separate classes in our nation, and we don’t believe that’s correct, that isn’t in accordance with the Gospel, there shouldn’t be one level for the rich and another level for the poor,” said Simmonds.

The Rev. Lane Campbell of the First Universalist Church is the chair of the group’s religious leaders caucus. She’s concerned that opponents are exploiting the issue for political gain.

“Out of fear for maybe losing positions or losing power, folks seek to divide rather than unite,” said Campbell.

Campbell said Roc/ACTS and affiliated churches are planning a series of outreach events to inform the community about the issues. Together, they hope to encourage lawmakers to stand their ground.

“Hold on, hold strong, continue in your support," Campbell said. "You made a good decision in the beginning, and I hope you stand by that decision.”