North Country lawmakers, local officials sound off on bail reform issues

Local News

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. – A handful of New York state lawmakers and Essex County officials are calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to consider changes to bail reform that would give judges more power to hold certain offenders.

Essex County District Attorney Kristy Sprague believes New York’s bail reform system is making communities less safe, because the list of offenses that are eligible for eliminated cash bail isn’t selective enough, and it has a ripple effect on public safety.

“12 drug defendants were arrested, within hours they were released,” Sprague said. “Back to the same house, the same community that they were just taken from. What message are we sending?”

Sprague is referring a drug sweep in Essex County last month that resulted in the arrest of a dozen dealers following months of investigation with informants and other sources. Sprague believes they’ll be less likely to help out again when they see those offenders back in the community.

“Are these good samaritans going to be giving us information? Are we going to have confidential informants that are going to want to get involved in investigations? It’s not going to happen,” Sprague said. “The balance between public safety and the rights of the accused has been knocked out of kilter, and all we’re asking for is just a simple fix. Put discretion back into bail making decisions.”

New York’s bail reform legislation went into effect January 2020, and advocates hailed it as an overdue correction for a system that was stacked against people who couldn’t afford cash bail.

Critics like State Senator Dan Stec believe it’s created a ‘revolving door’ of justice.

“This is out of control, it’s frustrating because those of us who were in Albany when this happened and voted against it told them this is the way it would play out,” Stec said. “Now, there’s no deterrent in these communities, no consequences, you’re back out on the street still high from when you were arrested.”

Moriah Town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said he supports the intention of cash bail reform, but what it left out was consideration for public safety. He believes that it’s also separated those arrested on drug charges from services that could help them.

“In my community, I have seen way too many deaths from overdose,” Scozzafava said. “Some of these deaths have happened at places where we knew drug dealing was happening, and again, they’re back out on the street.”

Senator Stec and Assemblyman Matt Simpson sent a letter to Governor Hochul, saying in part “As your legislative agenda takes shape, we welcome the possibility of what a new perspective may mean on a host of issues.  We respectfully ask that you consider statutory changes so that judges may once again have discretion to consider setting bail for high-level and repeat drug offenses.” 

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