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‘Finding Justice’

Population in the Chautauqua County Jail is lower than usual at this time in the year. Capt. Jim Crowell, jail warden, said the decreased population has allowed room for more programming. P-J photo by Jordan W. Patterson

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Jail population remains low while the Public Defender’s and District Attorney’s offices continue to adjust to criminal justice reforms.

Capt. Jim Crowell, Chautauqua County Jail warden, said at a Community Justice Coordinating Council meeting Wednesday the jail population was 171 (145 males, 26 females), which is down compared to past years.

“That’s down quite a bit from previous years, years past at this time,” Crowell said. “We have been able to close one of our units, our housing units. We have our inmates spaced out more. They’re not on top of each other.”

On Jan. 16, the last time the council met, the jail was housing 137 males and 14 females, Crowell reported.

Crowell said, due to certain classifications of inmates and resources, jail employees’ roles have not changed. However, he did say there has been a cost savings when it comes to overtime hours which has seen a reduction.

Additionally, the Treatment Pod in the jail, which county officials have previously discussed numerous times, has officially begun operations. While jail officials are waiting on grant funding to fully support the Treatment Pod initiative, other programming is being offered in that space to inmates undergoing Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).

“The space as far as overcrowding is no longer a problem,” Crowell said.

Crowell is hopeful going forward that the reduced jail population will be comprised of sentenced inmates in the future as opposed to individuals awaiting sentencing.

CJ REFORM

Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson and First Assistant Public Defender John Rice updated the council on the impacts of discovery and bail reforms. Last year, the New York State Legislature approved two criminal justice reforms that took effect Jan. 1 impacting how discovery and bail are managed.

Under the new discovery law, district attorney offices across New York state will have 15 days to present full discovery evidence in all cases or they will be dismissed. Subsequently, public defender offices are also receiving information much quicker too and have to prepare for that haul.

For the two county officials who represent opposite ends of the courtroom, changes made to discovery have caused an issue with digital storage in both offices.

“The biggest problem is space — where to store all this volume of material that (the District Attorney’s Office) is sending us,” Rice said. “I think it’s more of a technical problem than anything else. We’ve been dealing with IT and I think we probably need to get a server online and that should correct that problem.”

Swanson concurred and alluded to the future installation of a 6-terabyte server to store digital information at the District Attorney’s Office. The server is to be used as a backup for data and Swanson admitted that many of files used for trials can be so large that they cannot be shared electronically.

“Those exist,” Swanson said. “There are some cases where you have hours and hours of body camera footage that takes up gigabytes of information.”

Swanson said his office was hoping his server, that was originally scheduled to be installed Jan. 1, would be set up this week.

Discussing bail reform, both appeared to agree that most people skipping scheduled court dates were for more minor crimes.

“As far as bail reform is concerned, our office doesn’t perceive it as a problem at this point,” Rice said on behalf of the Public Defender’s office.

Regarding bail reform, many non-violent offenders are now being issued appearance tickets at the time of arrest instead of being taken into jail. Under the law change, district attorneys are limited to the offenses that they can request bail. More than 400 offenses are considered “non-qualifying” and are not eligible for bail, with some exceptions. Offenders will be given appearance tickets and released on their own recognizance, or ROR.

“It seems to me that on the more minor offenses that there are more failures to appear,” Swanson said. “The reason why that’s problematic in my view is that it slows down that whole process of getting the case to disposition. From where I sit, it adds cases to the docket unnecessarily and does slow it down a bit.”

Swanson said the DA’s office and the Jamestown Police Department are attempting to track the amount of people failing to appear in court. However, Swanson said his office was limited regarding individuals who failed to appear in court last year as that data was not previously tracked.

Swanson remained concerned that because of delays due to bail and discovery reforms, his office was slowly beginning to get behind.

“I can say that what I’m starting to see from our office is just a slow progression of being a little bit behind,” Swanson said.

He remained optimistic that the problem would not continue to grow. However, Swanson raised concerns that his staff was spending time on duties unrelated to serving the community and the law.

“We’re spending times on things that aren’t necessarily directed toward finding justice,” Swanson said, adding that often DA officials are dealing with technical issues regarding discovery changes.

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