Modified: February 18, 2020 6:24pm
Created: February 18, 2020 5:09pm
Data shows more criminals are back on the streets instead of behind bars in county jails
Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw, Jr. issued a report on bail reform legislation that passed in New York State in 2019, with data showing numerous ways the law negatively impact taxpayers and Erie County government. The report’s findings show:
- More criminals are free on the streets of Erie County
- Far less are incarcerated in the two jail facilities
- The lower number of incarcerated criminals could fit in one of the two county jails
- No funding mechanism in place, increasing county costs
- Negative impact on programs geared towards assisting the incarcerated
“More criminals are free back in our communities, rather than being locked up behind bars. Erie County operates two jails. One downtown. One in Alden. Because judges’ hands are tied: many serious offenders are set free, rather than placed in jail. The number of inmates in county jails dropped so much you could conceivably place them all in one, rather than two facilities. These criminals now roam our streets in bigger numbers, instead of being in jail where they belong,” said Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr.
According to data provided by the Office of Erie County Sheriff, the number of inmates incarcerated inside Erie County jails dropped dramatically once “bail reform” legislation became the law of the land in New York State:
- Number of inmates, September 2018: 1,074
- Number of inmates, January 2019: 832
- Number of inmates, January 2020: 658
The maximum inmate capacity at the Erie County Holding Center in downtown Buffalo is 638. The maximum inmate capacity at the Alden Correctional Facility is 744.
District Attorneys across New York State also say this is putting a huge burden on them. They estimate it will cost their offices an additional $100 million. DA’s are now expected to produce all evidence within fifteen days of arraignment. To meet that new deadline, District Attorneys are having to hire additional personnel. DA’s have said how difficult a time frame that is to meet; going through surveillance video, providing witness testimony, an recordings, names and addresses, and any other evidence to the defense. Law enforcement also has to meet that fifteen-day deadline, which some say is nearly impossible at times.
The new bail reform law is also increasing costs for local governments in numerous ways. Many smaller towns with budgets that were approved and set the year before, now face the challenge of court backlogs, meeting unrealistic deadlines, staffing and overtime costs, and benefit packages for those additional employees. Town and village governments are forced to hire additional staff to handle discovery and other issues as it relates to bail reform:
- Town of Hamburg – additional clerk at $42,000 plus benefit package (totaling approx.. $70,000)
- Town of Orchard Park – additional part-time staff
“One local government in New York State cited in our report states they have already raised property taxes to meet the costs of the unfunded mandates known as bail reform and discovery reform.”
“Typical of Albany politicians, they quickly pass laws without a care of how it will hurt law abiding taxpayers. Then they have the nerve to pass their costs down to us. Albany makes up the rules then forces implementation of responsibilities off to local governments without any plan or roadmap on how to do it,” added Comptroller Mychajliw.
The report also addresses the serious concerns about the care of inmates struggling with mental health or addiction issues that previously received care while in county custody. For those, it also means the treatment detainees would typically receive while incarcerated will not be as readily available to them. Often times that treatment is the first step toward recovery.
“For some who are arrested, once they are behind bars they are able to detox and drug treatment can begin while still in custody. Jail nurses can then help them with a plan so that once released, they continue their recovery. Same holds true for those who may be dealing with mental health issues. An evaluation can be done and next steps for care can begin.”
None of that money is coming from state coffers. County governments have to spend more money on staff and operations in their probation departments because probation now has to take on the entire cost of pretrial supervision for those out without bail. District Attorneys have also had to add staff. DA’s from across New York State have said it will cost their offices an estimated $100 million to meet all the new requirements of bail reform, without any state financial assistance. Counties are left to bear the burden.
The Erie County Comptroller also issued a report in 2018 that showed a significant portion of fees collected from fines and bail go towards alternatives to incarceration programs that now could lose some of that funding.
While Albany politicians said bail reform was necessary to balance the scales of justice, this legislation goes far beyond that. A recent Siena poll found 49% of New Yorkers oppose the reform, while 37% approve, as county governments struggle to meet unrealistic, unsafe and extremely costly demands.