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Jamestown Is Proof That The Bail Reform Laws Need Change

Jamestown City Court has seen a 72.4% increase in court no-shows in the first month of the state’s cashless bail system.

Data compiled by Harry Snellings, Jamestown police chief, showed city court has issued 119 bench warrants in January 2020, 50 more than the January 2019 total. Of the 119 bench warrants issued in January 2020, 17 were for violations, 95 were for misdemeanors and seven were arrested on a felony charge.

How in the world did Democrats in the state Legislature not see this coming?

Removing bail for many offenses was logically going to lead to an increase in the number of people who miss court dates. Missing court dates was already a problem before bail reform, and the law did nothing to encourage people to appear in court. It included no funding to increase local probation officers or to assist local police departments with the increased babysitting necessary sometimes to get people to court to answer their charges. While no one wants someone sitting in jail because they can’t afford a minimal amount of bail, the criminal justice system only works if people accused of crimes appear in court to have their charges resolved.

Jamestown already had a problem with people not appearing in court once they had been released or had posted bail. The city hasn’t had enough officers to simply do endless warrant checks while dealing with the types of crime that come with being a high-poverty city. Bail reform had already forced Jamestown to take a patrol officer off the street and make that officer a detective to help process evidence collected during an arrest. Now, officers are having to spend more time they didn’t have to try to serve bench warrants for people who aren’t appearing in court.

It seems obvious after the first month that some form of bail, particularly in misdemeanor crimes, is going to be necessary. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, continues to defend the bail reform law, saying critics are either fear mongers, misrepresenting facts or are trying to actively sabotage the bail reform law by releasing people without bail when there are legal ways to detain them. Heastie says the state doesn’t have enough information yet to justify if the law is working or not.

Hogwash.

What’s happening in Jamestown is proof that the law needs to be changed. Snellings isn’t sensationalizing the issues bail reform is causing his department. If anything, the chief is underplaying the issues. Criminal justice reform has placed additional burdens on the Jamestown Police Department while providing no assistance in meeting the additional state demands. Heastie must bring the state Assembly to the table immediately to resolve these problems. If he won’t, perhaps Assembly Democrats need to pick a new leader.

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