Bail battle: Greece Police chief warns over proposed bail reform


“Dangerous criminals are going to get arrested and then immediately released,” he said. “That presents a considerable danger for their victims.”

The Pretrial Justice Reform Act would eliminate cash bail for misdemeanor crimes as well as felonies considered minor. 

The administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed the measure as part of its 2019 budget proposal.

Advocates said the system of cash bail discriminates against lower income criminal defendants and keeps them locked up before trial.

“There appears to be a huge number of people being held on small amounts of bail, on low-level charges because they can’t post the bail,” said Michael Green, deputy executive commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Services in testimony before a joint legislative hearing on Jan. 29. “And it is our hope that that wouldn’t happen under this new proposal.”

Phelan joined a chorus of law enforcement professionals warning about what they said would be dangers of radical change to the state’s bail system.

In a statement, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley declared prosecutors were open to the idea of bail reform and refinement but cautioned, “by eliminating cash bail completely, the governor is taking away an important tool that law enforcement uses to ensure that the correct individuals are detained and that victims, and the public safety of our community, are protected.”

Advocates for domestic violence victims likewise voiced alarm.

In a statement, Megan De Chateauvieux, CEO of The Willow Domestic Violence Center called for “a more specific carve out for domestic violence in the new bail reform bill” and asked, “how does this measure hold offenders accountable and keep survivors safe?”

“The biggest risk here is to domestic violence victims,” said Phelan. “People that are victims of domestic violence, their abuser will be arrested and then immediately released. That’s dangerous.”

“I think the goal is always to elicit some sort of hysteria,” retorted bail reform advocated Joseph Burgess. “Even if that harm is true, what they’re talking about, I think you have it to compare that to the total harm that the system is inflicting on the people who are being temporarily incarcerated.”

Burgess declared that the state’s goal should be abolishing what he called a two-tier justice system where criminal defendants with resources could be freed while poorer ones were destined to languish in jail even before being convicted of any crime.

“We can’t look at just a case by case, judge by judge basis,” he said. “I think that the criminal justice system is so flawed as is.”

Burgess promised that advocates would keep up pressure on state lawmakers to keep the bail changes in the state budget as it wended its way through the legislature.

Phelan asked the public to get involved.

“They could care less what I think,” he said.  “But I would hope they would be concerned what their voters think.  I think people should be concerned about this because it affects their safety.”





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