The 2019-20 NYS Budget proposals include reforming the criminal justice system, including the Pre-Trial Justice Reform Act that eliminates cash bail and pretrial detention for certain offences. State leaders are now negotiating the reform language and whether there will be funding in the final budget.
The New York State Association of Counties
(NYSAC) is calling on the Governor and State Legislature to adopt the recommendations in the February 2019 "Report on Bail Reform" provided by the New York State Justice Task Force.
Lead by the Honorable Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, the nonpartisan Task Force closely studied pretrial service needs in a cashless bail system and recommends: "...that the State provide sufficient funding (emphasis added) for pretrial services, including supervised release as an alternative to bail, in order to ensure that such services are meaningful, robust, and effective. The Task Force further recommends the use of pretrial services across the State to increase the likelihood that defendants will appear in court as required, including through reminders of upcoming court dates by phone calls, texts, and letters."
NYSAC supports improvements to the criminal justice system. However, as with many public policies enacted in the State Capitol, criminal justice reform will have a direct impact on county government functions, including probation, district attorneys, sheriffs, and public defenders.
Despite these impacts and the recommendations of the Justice Task Force, the proposed state budget does not include any state funding for these reforms.
"County governments support efforts to reform cash bail and ways to keep non-threatening individuals out of county jail. However, to properly implement these proposals, they must be accompanied by state funding," said Stephen Acquario, NYSAC Executive Director.
Under current law, judges place monetary bail levels based on the "risk of flight" of the accused. This system is in place to ensure that those accused of a crime return to court. The new system would allow for pre-trail detention for higher level felonies only and would eliminate cash bail. These proposed reforms lack detail as to how to this system will ensure the accused is present in court for the criminal hearing. This change will undoubtedly require more casework for local probation officers and sheriff deputies to achieve this criminal justice reform.
NYSAC President Charles H. Nesbitt, Jr. explained, "County governments are integral partners with the state. For every policy consideration, there needs to be a fiscal impact note so that state lawmakers truly understand the impact both at the state and local level. To effectively implement these reforms counties will need State fiscal support."
Albany County District Attorney David Soares, President of the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, said "We need to move forward with caution to ensure that the reforms keep people and communities safe. Every county district attorney office will need additional resources to comply with these reforms. We urge our lawmakers to provide adequate funding to retrieve people who were accused of crimes and leave the state to avoid the legal process."
County leaders are following budget negotiations closely, watching for cost shifts and unfunded mandates that will impact county budgets.