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New York lawmakers discussing changes to bail reform

Andrew Hyman
Created: February 12, 2020 11:48 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Talks to make changes to New York State’s controversial criminal reform laws are underway in Albany.

In an interview with Newsday, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins revealed a proposal that could remove cash bail altogether, and give more leeway to judges when it comes to remanding a person to jail.

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Cousins announced senate democrats and law enforcement leaders have had continued discussions on the proposal.

Locally, Greece Police Chief Pat Phelan says, he’s met with Stewart-Cousins and other lawmakers and sees promise in what’s being proposed.

"We're happy to see that they're at least talking about making changes," Phelan said.

Phelan, who also serves as President of the NY State Association of Chiefs of Police is among the many law enforcement leaders who have shared safety concerns over both bail and discovery reform. 

Phelan points to recent stories, like the release of Tyquan Rivera, who shot a Rochester Police Officer Anthony DiPonzio more than a decade ago.

In a statement regarding the proposed changes, Stewart-Cousins said:

“We are getting rid of cash bail completely. Simply put, the reforms will ensure that no one will be incarcerated simply because of their inability to pay and that no one will be let out of prison because of their enormous wealth. Our reforms would represent the most progressive justice reforms and the justice system in the nation. We would give judges some discretion but with extremely strict guidelines and guardrails and almost all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies would not be eligible for remand.”

But, reform advocates like Ashley Gantt say one month is simply not enough time to tell if the reforms have worked or not. 

"I would think it's putting us 10 steps backward," Gantt said.

Gantt, who serves as an organizer for the civil rights group New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) says law enforcement worries are the result of fear-mongering and come from a lack of understanding of the laws.

A common complaint regarding discovery reform is a lack of adequate time to turn over documents, (15 days) but, the law does allow a period of an additional 30 days if the materials are “voluminous,” or if an adequate effort is made to obtain documents. 

As for the "right" time to have talks about making changes, Gantt says it should take at least six months, to a year.

"Let’s see if people are returning to court, let’s see if this legislation is actually working," she said.

In the meantime, Phelan says, he and other law enforcement leaders will continue to make a push to lawmakers.

"The devil's in the details, and we're really going to have to see, how the change plays out," he said.

Phelan says he is open to debate before any final changes are made.

In a statement, VOCAL-NY Community Leader Roger Clark said:

“Judges in New York State have always treated Black people worse than White people regardless of the charges — this proposal gives them a license to discriminate and lock up more Black people in jail. I can’t believe that Democrats want to do that. If they think this is going to help their elections they are crazy. This is going to discourage young people, Black people and progressives from voting at a time when we need huge changes here in New York and at the Federal level.”


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