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During the June 19 Democratic primary election, the Nassau County district attorney race was the most expensive local contest of the 2018 election cycle. In one of the election’s few contests to be won by a first-time candidate, Assemb. Todd Kaminsky trounced Conservative incumbent Tom Spota (with no major party opponent) and conservative longshot Justin Gest. Kaminsky is now running against a third-time politician, Republican Jeanine Pirro, who has appeared as a guest on Fox News’ “In the Arena” and its “House of Contempt” segments.
During the primary, Kaminsky hammered his opponent on spending and security issues. A former Assistant U.S. Attorney who served as head of organized crime prosecutions in the Southern District of New York, Kaminsky attacked Pirro for an additional $3 million in public safety funding. That came just as the law-enforcement community started organizing around bail reform.
Kaminsky scored a significant win at the June 19 Democratic primary with his advocacy for bail reform. At his urging, state judges and the state assembly passed the New York bail reform act, which eliminates mandatory bail for low-level criminal offenders and redirects the money spent on pretrial detention into more efficient detention systems. The act was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 28.
Since then, Kaminsky has spent his days meeting with community leaders, lawmakers, and academics—all of whom were involved in shaping the NY bail reform law—to discuss the legislation’s many implications. “The governor and legislature are so respected, and they’re so good-hearted and independent, and when they do good things, they get credit for them,” he says. “Having a law that actually accomplishes something that we know is helping the criminal justice system is very meaningful.”
One of the big headlines about bail reform is that it has already resulted in an end to one of the most stubborn ironies in the justice system. Recipients of the Act’s bail block grants must implement bail reform—or else get no money from the state. Several counties are working to implement the law, including Nassau County, a large, urban county with a high percent of incarcerated low-level offenders, like illegal immigrants.
“In the last month, about three-quarters of defendants we’ve released on bail have had a chance to make bail,” Kaminsky says. “For the first time in years and years, people who didn’t have good bail, who didn’t deserve to be in jail before they showed up for court had a chance to make bail.”
To Kaminsky, though, it’s not enough to release those who have been accused of crimes. “It doesn’t matter if they got sentenced to six months in jail, or six years in jail, we’re still treating them as criminals,” he says.
In Nassau County, a key to implementing the state’s bail reform law is to keep three people incarcerated at once. They are: A.S., a student who has committed no crime, but was arrested while riding the subway on her way home from college; P.A., a criminal history-background check examiner who showed up at the arrest scene with the name of a false arrest warrant and a DNA sample linked to a previous misdemeanor conviction; and No. F., a woman whose name is not in the government’s records. Now that the public has learned about her charge, and before she can either find a lawyer to waive her arraignment or be assigned an attorney in county court, Nassau County does not have the money to bond out two defendants at once.