Criminal-justice “reform” in New York has turned our courts into a merry-go-round, with violent offenders free to jump off at will.
The latest outrage took place in The Bronx, where 16-year-old Jordon Benjamin allegedly stabbed Amya Hicks in mid-December. Arrested a few days later, he was charged with felony assault and assorted lesser charges. Amya Hicks needed surgery and spent several days in the hospital. Benjamin was less inconvenienced: He only spent a few hours in a holding cell before being released on his recognizance, without having to post bail.
It’s bad enough that an alleged knife-wielding thug who slashes neighborhood women got to gallivant out of jail. But the story becomes downright enraging when we learn that Benjamin was already facing manslaughter charges — and the same judge let him out twice.
On Christmas Eve 2019, young Benjamin and some of his mates allegedly took time out from their holiday festivities to assault Juan Fresnada, a 60-year-old Bronx man. They stomped on him and brained him with a garbage can. Fresnada died, and Benjamin and his crew got away with $1.
In his brief career, Benjamin is already the beneficiary of multiple aspects of New York state’s criminal-justice “reform” measures, which our progressive leaders and professional activist class have hailed as “monumental” steps to “create a fairer and more humane” system, in the words of Mayor de Blasio.
Benjamin was originally held in a youth correctional facility until he was released in March because of the pandemic. This was part of a massive drawdown in the city’s jail population, which dovetailed with the push to free as many inmates as possible in expectation of closing Rikers Island.
“The number of New Yorkers held in NYC jails has plummeted, shrinking by 27 percent in 10 weeks, a steeper population decline than in all of last year,” boasted the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in May. “The jail population is at a number not seen since 1946.”
This would be fantastic news — if the decline in the inmate population was a function of a lower crime rate. But when it’s artificially imposed, it’s hardly cause for celebration. And while it may make sense to let certain nonviolent, older prisoners out of jail for health concerns, there is no evidence that teenagers like Benjamin, being held at juvenile correction facilities, are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
The extent to which the mass release of juvenile prisoners in March was a political decision, and not driven by “the science,” can be seen by the fact that as violence spiked throughout the spring, the city hesitated to release teenagers arrested for serious crimes. After balancing their low medical vulnerability against public-safety concerns, the number of detained youth rebounded to pre-pandemic levels by May.
This means that letting an alleged violent offender like Benjamin out in March was a big mistake, and one that the city quickly stopped making as shootings and stabbings spiked rapidly.
One would think that after allegedly committing another vicious assault this month, Benjamin would have at least been locked up. But Bronx County Supreme Court Acting Justice Denis Boyle decided to let him go, though he now faces separate charges of manslaughter and felony assault.
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state Office of Court Administration, defended Boyle’s move, stating, “Judges follow the law, and the law clearly states that the least restrictive alternative should be the preeminent driver in bail consideration.”
The law Chalfen references is the infamous state bail “reform,” which eliminated cash bail for most non-violent offenses, which even de Blasio has cited as a contributing factor to the rise in violent crime. But the law doesn’t actually mandate “least-restrictive” alternatives for people accused of committing violent felonies, nor for individuals under probation or supervision or for “persistent offenders.”
But the current climate is permissive and encourages judges, cops and prosecutors to operate under the assumption that confinement is always the worst option. So they err in favor of criminals. Surely Jordon Benjamin is happier to be out of jail than in it while he awaits his trials for manslaughter and serious assault. Meanwhile, best of luck to the next person who has an unpleasant encounter with him.
Seth Barron is associate editor of City Journal. Twitter: @SethBarronNYC
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