BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Supporters and critics of bail reform held back-to-back demonstrations in Albany on Tuesday, each side hoping their message upstaged the opposing one.
First to take the podium were a collection of police, prosecutors and politicians, all angry with the bail reform. Within a couple hours, the same area was occupied by proponents of bail reform.
Since January 1st, defendants of misdemeanors and most felonies are released from custody without having a cash bail attached to their conditions for release. It's intended to lower the number of people sitting in jail awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail.
Already, some elected officials are concluding the new reforms are wreaking havoc on public safety.
However, advocates of bail reform say the new law finally ends a decades-long bail practice that has disproportionately hurt the poor and people of color.
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn has been doing his own version of bail reform for more than a year. He says since September 2018, the number of people sitting in jail while they await trial has declined sixty percent because his prosecutors no longer recommended bail for defendants charged of a misdemeanor or non-violent felony.
However, he believes that his prosecutors' hands are now tied with the way the new state law is structured.
"I believe that if you know that you're facing [a long] amount of jail time with that serious charge, that you're potentially a flight risk. And that's got to be factored in by a judge. Now, under the new law, it's not. That's a problem," Flynn told 7 Eyewitness News.
Bail reform advocates caution about the consequences of rolling back the new bail restrictions, or implementing public safety assessments (as is done in New Jersey).
Marie Ndiaye, supervising attorney of the Decarceration Project at the Legal Aid Society, says rollbacks or assessments would "bake in racism" into the pre-trial process.
"If you think that how we're going to get public safety is literally by removing people from society, then you're probably not fit to lead. It makes no sense because all of those people are going to go right back to those same communities that they came from [after they plead guilty to get out of jail]," said Ndiaye.
Flynn says he is lobbying elected officials to figure out how to tweak the new bail rules without reverting back to the old system that led to bloated pre-trial incarcerations.
"I'm not advocating that it swings back all the way to where it was. I'm just advocating that it needs to swing back a little more," Flynn said.
Flynn would like to see charges like vehicular manslaughter and "Class A" drug felonies added to the list of crimes that could require a cash bail.