A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
Another week in Albany and still no action to fix the disastrous new bail law that is threatening public safety in communities across the state. More individuals have been set free without bail and many, who are repeat offenders, have committed additional crimes – some within hours of their release.
I believe a full repeal of the law is needed so we can start from scratch and enact a workable bail system. Alternatively, amendments to the so-called reforms to allow for judicial discretion when determining bail, especially for repeat offenders and those who put public safety at risk, need to be enacted immediately.
Another key issue that has been brought to my attention centers on the treatment for those with addiction issues. This falls under the heading “unintended consequences” and is one of the reasons why rushing a law through for the sake of a few headlines is poor public policy.
Below is an op-ed written by Mathew Johnson, a Registered Nurse and Community Health Nurse with the Otsego County Public Health Department with experience working as a registered nurse in the Otsego County Correctional Facility and Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) Division of Juvenile Justice.
Unintended Consequences – Missed Opportunities
By Mathew Johnson, RN
Bail Reform seems to be the headline in the media these days. The debate continues on the risk versus benefit to all residents – whether charged with a crime or not. While the debate continues, we are missing an opportunity to help those with addiction and mental health disorders.
People with addiction may be arrested for many different reasons. They may be charged with possession of a drug that feeds their addiction. They may be charged with a crime that directly or indirectly supports their addiction. In the past, bail was set and these residents were incarcerated because they are unable to make bail.
So what are the opportunities missed?
Incarceration can be the first point of contact for an individual with a substance use disorder to access preventive services. It may be the very first step on their road to recovery. It starts at intake when the Correctional Officers and the Corrections Medical Team assess and address the needs of an inmate with a substance use disorder. This is the starting point where the individual will receive support for acute withdrawal. The pathway forward is often moving the individual from incarceration in jail to an addiction rehabilitation and treatment center. This intervention helps to prevent the individual from suffering unintended consequences of substance use disorder.
So what happens when the individual has no support system following an arrest, arraignment, and release on their own recognizance? What happens when an individual who has a substance use disorder that is the underlying cause of the crime is released, only to continue to feed their addiction? While bail reform is needed, the residents of New York State need a well thought out approach; one that respects equality and does not leave those who need services the most to suffer in silence.
Has bail reform created unintended consequences, missed opportunities or both? It would benefit all of us if the legislature can find common ground to address these issues, without collateral damage to anyone.
I am co-sponsoring legislation to address concerns regarding the changes in the bail and discovery laws, including:
- S.6839 – giving judges discretion to set bail in domestic violence cases;
- S.6840 – allowing judges to consider whether a defendant poses a danger to the community when determining bail;
- S.7280 – provide privacy protection for emergency first responders who are called to a crime scene so they are not subject to retaliation or witness tampering.
While I am open to discussing changes that could better address the way bail is utilized, the newly enacted laws go too far. Corrective steps need to be taken immediately.