BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–State lawmakers brought one of New York’s most contentious political issues, bail reform, to Buffalo Thursday, bringing supporters and opponents face-to-face for the first time since the new laws took effect in January.
Opponents of bail reform–mainly police, prosecutors and court officers– claim the new laws that remove bail from misdemeanors and non-violent felonies have put too many dangerous criminals back on the street.
State Senate Republicans held a hearing in the Mahoney State Office Building, with the theme, “Keeping Our Communities Safe,” but reform activists have accused the opposition of fear-mongering, preying on the poor, and racist.
Christian Parra attended the legislative hearing with the pro-reform Citizen Action group, and has first hand knowledge of the old bail system’s cruelty.
Parra spent nearly four months in jail on drug charges because he could not afford the $25,000 bail. The charges were eventually dismissed, but after the lengthy incarceration the Bronx native lost everything.
“I stayed here in Buffalo, in jail basically for a very long time, lost my scholarship to the University of Central Florida to continue my legacy in college.”
Bail reform activists have said the new laws have allowed thousands of New Yorkers to remain free pending trial, keep their jobs, and stay in school, but reform opponents say too many criminals are slipping through the cracks.
Jamestown Police Chief Harry Snellings told lawmakers, most drug offenses—even in case of large amounts—are classified as non-violent offenses.
“It is an automatic appearance ticket. So that individual is going right back into the same community, the same neighborhood that we have been asked to address and remove.”
Erie County Sheriff Timothy Howard said drug suspects who are not required to post bail cannot take advantage of drug treatment and counseling programs that are now being offered in jail.
“We’ve had numerous parents that have called the different sheriffs across the state and actually pled with the sheriffs that they would find their son or daughter that were addicted to opiate drugs.”
Many of the elected officials opposed to the new bail reform laws are calling for a repeal, but a number of others said it just needs some adjustments, such as allowing judges some degree of discretion before allowing a suspect to be freed without posting bail.