The top lawmakers on the Assembly and state Senate health committees, in a letter Tuesday, urged against making changes to the state's bail law, which ended cash bail requirements for misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses.
In the letter, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Sen. Gustavo Rivera warned that making changes could lead to more people in jails, creating an increase risk for people to contract the coronavirus.
"Jails are uniquely intensive breeding grounds for contagious diseases," the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "Social distancing is virtually impossible in the close quarters of a jail."
Lawmakers up until last month had been mulling potential changes to the state's bail law, which took effect at the start of the year. Republicans and law enforcement officials had blasted the measure as unsafe to the public; supporters called it necessary to prevent poor people from languishing in jails, while a richer defendant is allowed to go free pending trial.
A compromise floated by Democrats in the state Senate would end cash bail entirely, but allow judges to have the authority to remand some defendants — a key sticking point for both criminal justice advocates and law enforcement alike.
The spread of the coronavirus across the country in the last several weeks has largely shoved the bail issue to the side in Albany.
Meanwhile, some criminal justice advocates have been urging the state to release prison inmates who are vulnerable to the disease, including elderly inmates. An employee at Sing Sing Correctional Facility this week tested positive for the coronavirus.
State prison officials last weekend announced visits would end in state prisons, but inmates would be given free postage and a phone call during the week to communicate with loved ones.