News10NBC investigates a 'very unjust system'

March 21, 2019 09:48 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) -- In February, there were 11 men and women in the Monroe County Jail who could have gotten out if they or their families had just posted their bail. 

For all 11 inmates, the bail was under $501. 


Gov. Cuomo says that's a problem with poverty and the state's bail system. 

Cuomo wants to eliminate bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Bail is the money you have to pay to get out of jail. You lose it if you flee or don't return to court. 

The governor says there are too many people locked up because they're poor and can't afford to pay their bail. 

"There's a whole bunch of people in jail like me," Nathaniel Williams said. 

Williams had a track record of drug arrests and a few warrants for not showing up to court. 

But when he was arrested for selling drugs in Rochester in the early 2000s, he sat in the Monroe County Jail before his trial because he says he couldn't afford the $1,500 bail set against him. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "Why not?"

Nathaniel Williams, remained in jail on bail: "Because I wasn't employed at the time. I was living the life to try to help my family that I created. So I was in the streets regularly but I didn't have that money."

News10NBC met Williams through the Judicial Process Commission. It's run by Susan Porter in the top floor of a church on Norton Street in Rochester. 

From the county jail census in February, Porter compiled a list of inmates in the Monroe County Jail, what they were charged with and what their bail was. 

Brean: "Based on your data, what you're showing is you've got 11 people locked up in Monroe County and their bail is under $501."

Susan Porter, Judicial Process Commission: "Correct."

Brean: "So what that tells us is those 11 people don't have the means to scrounge up $501."

Porter: "Right."

Brean: "Or the family to do it."

Porter: "Right."

Brean: "What does that tell you?"

Porter: "That tells me we have a very unjust system. We've got peole in there who should not be in there."

The governor wants to eliminate bail for non-violent crimes. Under his plan, those 11 men and women with less than $502 bail would never have been sent to jail in the first place. 

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley says she supports the elimination of bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies as long as judges still have the power to lock up potentially dangerous suspects. 

"Think of a domestic violence case that may involve the use of a weapon or repeated violations of an order of protection," Doorley said. 

News10NBC asked Ms. Doorley about the poverty issue. 

Brean: "There are people locked up in the jail on low amounts of bail and they just, apparently, don't have the money to bail themselves out."

Sandra Doorley, Monroe County district attorney: "Right, and there should be some reform in that arena. They need to be able to get involved with pre-trial services so that they're not sitting in jail on $50 bail."

Those pre-trial services would monitor people arrested and charged and make sure they show up to court. 

That costs money. 

At a news conference Wednesday, the governor's counsel, Alphonso David, said it's talking about that money. 

Coming up on News10NBC at 11, we're going to put the governor's bail reform plan to the test and show you how many people would get out of the Monroe County Jail if it existed right now.


Berkeley Brean

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