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Bail reforms, impacts blasted by Madison County officials

Posted 10/22/19

The Madison County District Attorney’s Office, Madison County Probation Office, Madison County Sheriff’s Office and Madison County Board of Supervisors have joined forces to voice their concerns …

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Bail reforms, impacts blasted by Madison County officials

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The Madison County District Attorney’s Office, Madison County Probation Office, Madison County Sheriff’s Office and Madison County Board of Supervisors have joined forces to voice their concerns on bail reform and changes to discovery that are set to take effect January 2020. 

As of Jan. 1, there will be no more cash bail for most misdemeanor or non-violent felony arrests.  The majority of offenses will require an appearance ticket.  The Madison County officials say while the reforms are well intentioned, the changes will now put residents at a greater risk. 

Due to the changes, the District Attorney’s Office and the Probation Office are predicting a substantial increase in workload, resulting in additional staffing requests in the 2020 budget. This will be reflected in a tax increase for Madison County residents in 2020, officials said.

“Prosecutors across the state were in favor of true bail reform. Sadly, what was passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor is not so much a ‘reform’ as it is an attack on our criminal justice system that endangers public safety in general and victim safety in particular,” said Robert A. Mascari, chief assistant district attorney.

“It is shocking to realize that as of Jan. 1, 2020, a criminal can break into a Madison County citizen’s home with the knowledge that when arrested, bail cannot be set and that criminal must be released on the ‘least restrictive non-monetary conditions,” Mascari said.

Under other newly enacted discovery laws, that same criminal can get a court order to re-enter the victim’s residence – apparently, to see what was missed the first time,” he continued.  “In the pursuit of ‘justice and fairness’ for defendants, our governor and state Legislature have not only ignored public safety, they have sent a message that they truly do not care about victims.”

Joanne Miller, director of the Madison County Probation Department, said the reform directly affects the probation department. 

“Whereas in the past, it was at the judge’s discretion to weigh a defendant’s potential risk to the community or risk of flight, it is now required that in most cases defendants be released pending disposition of their cases,” Miller said.  

“The Madison County Probation Department currently operates a Release Under Supervision program wherein defendants are screened, must meet certain eligibility criteria, and, upon our recommendation and the consent of the judge, the defendant may be released under our supervision pending disposition of his/her case,” Miller said. “This new legislation will likely result in an influx of defendants being released under our supervision without the benefit of screening and despite the fact that they may pose a risk of flight or a risk of engaging in continued criminal behavior. We are concerned about the implications of this, both for our department and for the community at large.”

Madison County Sheriff Todd Hood said while the intentions of bail reform are good, the law makes it difficult for law enforcement to keep the residents of Madison County safe. “This law is putting dangerous people who we previously could put behind bars back on the streets,” Hood said.

Madison County Board Chairman John M. Becker reiterated that the safety and well-being of citizens is the top priority of the board, and that the laws do not allow employees to do their jobs properly to ensure that safety.

“While the idea of reform is well intentioned, when these laws were passed no one took into account how they would be executed on the local level,” said Becker. “Now we are demanding more of our staff and endangering the public at the same time.”

“Until the laws take effect in 2020, we cannot estimate the full impact they will have on operations here at the county,” said Mark Scimone, Madison County administrator, who added he’s part of a task force with the New York State Association of Counties working to address the issues that will arise with the changes.

“Until the laws take effect in 2020, we cannot estimate the full impact they will have on operations here at the county,” he said.

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