AVP opposes New York State’s recently passed bail rollbacks which will put thousands more in jail, including marginalized and criminalized LGBTQ survivors of violence. 

New York City, NY – The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) opposes the actions of Governor Cuomo and the New York State legislature to rollback 2019 bail laws, which will put thousands more in jail, including marginalized LGBTQ survivors like Layleen Polanco, a Black Afro-Dominican trans woman who died in Rikers jail complex nearly one year ago. 

AVP serves thousands of LGBTQ and HIV-affected survivors of all forms of violence, including domestic and intimate partner violence (IPV), each year in New York State, through our hotline, counseling, support and legal services, and advocacy. As an organization that serves survivors of IPV and hate violence, AVP opposes these rollbacks on the basis that it will harm and jail many more in our community. 

Layleen Polanco was arrested on misdemeanor charges in April 2019 and taken into custody because she missed court dates as part of an alternative to incarceration program stemming from prostitution charges. She was sent to the jail complex because she could not afford $500 bail. Layleen was found unresponsive in her cell on June 7, and pronounced dead, after spending 8 days in solitary confinement, despite jail officials knowing she suffered from epilepsy. Her death in 2019 sparked protests and provided yet another example of why bail laws had to be reformed.  Earlier that year, AVP joined other social justice organizations to push New York State to pass bail and pretrial reforms aimed at reducing pretrial detention, ending the rampant injustices of money bail and ensuring due process. Backed by social justice advocates, survivor advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals, legislators passed critical bail reform laws in April 2019 which went into effect January 2020. 

Yet this year, just months after the law went into effect, the Governor and legislature pushed a rollback proposal in the 2020 state budget that will perpetuate the practice of unfairly jailing many in our state who are poor and already marginalized. Pre-trial jailing can be deadly, and tragic deaths such as Layleen’s are likely to be repeated. Under rollbacks, anyone arrested who has a prior charge of misdemeanor will automatically be subject to bail, resulting in thousands of low-income people like Layleen languishing in jail due to their inability to pay bail. 

Contrary to the arguments of those who oppose bail reform, rollbacks will not make survivors of violence safer. In fact, rollbacks will harm marginalized survivors of violence. The proposed rollbacks will harm LGBTQ and other survivors of violence in the following ways.

  • Mandatory arrest laws and poor primary-aggressor assessments by law enforcement mean that survivors are often arrested instead of – or in addition to – the person engaging in abuse. Gendered assumptions in law enforcement‘s assessment of violence in LGBTQ relationships contributes to higher rates of survivors being arrested in police responses to LGBTQ IPV. When race intersects, the rates of survivor arrest are even higher. A fourth of all survivors are arrested or threatened with arrest during an incident or report. In New York City, the majority (66%) of survivors who were arrested alongside or instead of their abusive partner were Black or Latinx. Arrests cause more trauma and entrap survivors in our criminal legal system, which continues to cause harm and trauma, especially against Black, Latinx, immigrant, transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) survivors of violence. Rollbacks, which include expanded bailable categories around misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, could make it more likely that LGBTQ survivors of violence are incarcerated pre-trial. 
  • LGBTQ survivors of violence are more likely to have had encounters with the criminal legal system before, during, and after surviving violence. Now any repeat charge of misdemeanor automatically becomes a bailable offense, which means low-income LGBTQ survivors of violence will continue to languish in jail, as in the case of Layleen Polanco. Working class and poor LGBTQ survivors of color include people with prior arrests and records, people with unstable immigration status, people who work in illicit street economies for survival, including sex work and those who sell and/or use illegal substances. Marginalized survivors left out of legal economies and social safety nets often become entangled in the criminal legal system for these reasons, and the state has historically used profiling, policing, prosecution, and pretrial detention to criminalize these survivors instead of aiding them.

Especially as the rollbacks expand bailable categories of misdemeanor charges, the capacity for these new regressive bail laws to entangle thousands more in the criminal legal system has greatly expanded. AVP stands with other social and racial justice-oriented organizations to call for the Governor and legislature to stop these rollbacks from going into effect before the 90-day period of enactment ends, especially as jails are being ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.