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Times-Union “Bail Reform” headlines give insight into ongoing debate

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Governor Hochul wants to fix the “reforms,” Drug Court suffers

By Andrew Harris

Today’s headlines provide New Yorkers a glimpse into current state of debate over “bail reform.”

The subject has created fierce debate between law enforcement advocates and criminal justice reformers. Changes in bail requirements have achieved the primary goal of keeping those arrested out of jail simply because they can’t afford to make bail. Those changes also have caused a marked increase in crime and public safety concerns. The Times-Union reports that Governor Kathy Hochul told a recent gathering of law enforcement officials that serious crime is up 21% in New York.

During that meeting, Hochul continued to support the “spirt of the law,” but acknowledged that the law needs urgent repair. The Governor insisted to the group of law enforcement that the state can make a big difference with some clarity for judges. Apparently there is confusion local court officials fully understand how much, or little, discretion they have when considering bail.

Hochul’s position is that the issue boils down to an understanding of what is or isn’t a “qualifying offense.” Bail reform advocates call for mandatory education for all judges but Hochul doesn’t agree. The Governor will be pushing for statutory changes that will make it clear to all NYS courts that individuals arrested for a “qualifying offense,” may be held in jail on set bail.

The fate of Hochul’s proposed changes is unclear. Progressive bail reform advocates say the changes will undermine current bail reform laws. Law enforcement officials are happy with the Governor’s push but insist that much more needs to be done to repair public safety in New York. Read the full story from the Times-Union.

Another related headline appeared in the Albany NY news, a report that changes in the state bail requirements have undermined the “drug court” program. The program has been widely hailed as an important criminal justice tool for those in the system as a result of addiction.

Traditionally, those who qualify for “drug court,” are able to avoid jail by entering the program, but they must plead guilty first. By doing so, and by completing the program, the guilty plea is wiped away and the participant becomes a graduate instead of an inmate.

Law enforcement officials claim that the bail reforms are responsible because it has disrupted the “coersive model” used to divert individuals away from jail and into drug court. Essentially, prosecutors and law enforcement have used incarceration as a way to encourage, or coerce, those who qualify for the program to enroll. When arrested individuals are released with an appearance ticket, the rates of drug court enrollment drop significantly.

Bail reform advocates and public defenders take a different position on the subject according to the Times Union:

“Many public defenders contend it’s a good thing that the coercion model has been suppressed. They would prefer to change how people can enter drug court and point to “Treatment not Jails” legislation, which would remove the need for a person to enter a guilty plea in order to access treatment.”

Read the full story from Times-Union

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