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From the Assembly: New York reeling after bail reform backfires

From the Assembly: New York reeling after bail reform backfires

Recent changes to criminal justice law have missed the mark, and the outcry from law enforcement experts, victims and the public has made it abundantly clear we cannot continue on this path. What was sold to the public as a way to improve our justice system has rapidly descended into a public safety crisis.

We were told these changes would only apply to low-level and non-violent offenders. That was simply untrue. Surely, the proponents of this bill do not want career criminals — individuals arrested three, four or five times in a short period of time — being released back onto the street immediately after being arrested, only to commit another offense within hours. However, what we have seen is just that, and worse. People are dying. That’s not justice, economic or otherwise. It’s a bad law and it needs to be fixed immediately.

This week, the Assembly Minority Conference stood in unison at a press conference where victims, prosecutors and law enforcement officials spoke plainly about how these misguided policies impact the real world. Dangerous individuals are enjoying more rights and freedoms than law-abiding citizens. People are committing heinous crimes, some resulting in the loss of life, and are released back into the community without bail. Deadlines and requirements related to their cases cannot be reasonably met by investigating authorities and are creating financial burdens and backlogs.

This is not rhetoric — it’s the reality we’re seeing from a law that was tucked away in a state budget rather than brought out for public discussion. Men, women, children and families have been forced to deal with the devastating fallout from these changes, and some of their stories are heartbreaking.

Sheila Harris, the cousin of Maria “Rosie” Osai, a 35-year-old mother of three who was struck and killed by an unlicensed, hit-and-run driver in Rockland County on Christmas Eve, was one such victim who spoke out against the changes. The driver who killed her cousin was arrested, arraigned, and released before Rosie’s children even knew their mother had died.

Jennifer Payne, the mother of 22-year-old Sarah Tombs, who was shot and killed in April by her live-in boyfriend in Syracuse, was another such victim. The man accused of killing her daughter was charged with reckless manslaughter and held on bail, but was released last week under the new law.

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There are certainly improvements that can be made to the system. We need to take time, engage in widespread conversations and identify changes that can balance the scales of justice more fairly. But above all else, the solutions we reach cannot compromise the safety of our families and communities.

As I have stated before, criminal justice reforms went too far, too fast. Changes of this magnitude require years of study, research and implementation. They require training and funding. This is an overhaul of the criminal justice system lacking all of the above. It disregards the basic tenets of law and justice, and it needs to be repealed immediately. It is the only logical course of action at this time.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by email at [email protected] or by calling 315-598-5185. Follow me at facebook.com/AssemblymanWillBarclay.

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