BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–One of the burning issues that is certain to face state lawmakers when they return to Albany next week is Criminal Justice Reform. Even before the new laws took effect, on January 1, local leaders were calling for a “time out.”
Local civic and political leaders across the state have warned the bail reform aspect could render the streets less safe, by nearly eliminating cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
Elected officials, on nearly every level, including those in Erie County, also claim the new reforms are burdening them with yet another unfunded mandate from the state.
The Erie County Legislature has added $1.2 million District Attorney John Flynn’s budget to meet the new speedy trial and evidence-gathering requirements of the new reform laws.
Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo said, Flynn had been expecting the additional funds to come from the state.
“The fact that they have to get everything that they can out to defense counsel and whoever else within 15 days–it is just not enough time. So we have added staff, we have increased funding, and we are feeling the heat of it.”
Legislators are also receiving resolutions from towns and villages across Erie County that are asking state lawmakers to revisit Criminal Justice Reform.
Amherst Republican Ed Rath agrees some of the changes are necessary, such as restricting cash bail because too many suspects are held in jail just because they are unable to afford the bail.
“This is an example, once again, of Albany shooting first and aiming second, and getting it wrong, and missing the mark terribly.”
It is the burden on local taxpayers that even State Attorney General Letitia James said has to be addressed when she was in Buffalo Tuesday.
“I am hoping that the legislature will revisit that issue and I hope that the legislature would not impose an unfunded mandate on the law enforcement officers of the State of New York.”
County Legislature Chairwoman April Baskin said she agrees with the need for criminal justice reform and the county needs some funding relief, but with fewer inmates in custody, Baskin said the scales of justice could eventually balance the cost.
The Buffalo legislator said the cost of housing a single inmate in an Erie County correctional facility can range from range from $150 to $250 a day.
“We are going to make sure that our local leaders, like the DA and our local law enforcement have the tools that they need to keep the citizens of Erie County protected, because public safety is our utmost priority.”
Law enforcement officials have estimated the statewide cost to implement the new Criminal Justice Reform provisions could reach $100 million. They are hoping Governor Andrew Cuomo could offer some relief from the unfunded mandates in his State of the State address next week.