New York Division of Criminal Justice Service Acting Commissioner Michael Green presented some of the highlights of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent state of the state address and their potential impacts on the Finger Lakes region.
But even the former Monroe County district attorney said he knew the issue of bail reform — which was not included in the presentation — would be the question he’d be asked to respond to.
And as a former prosecutor, Green said he has seen how the justice system has favored rich people over poor people — and bail reform is a step in the right direction for a legal system that needs to be reformed.
“We still have a system that is not fair to all New Yorkers,” said Green, who spoke Jan. 16 at the Finger Lakes Welcome Center on Seneca Lake. “It should treat rich people and poor people the same. It should treat black people and white people the same.”
Of late, law enforcement leaders across the state have heavily criticized the bail reform law, which eliminated cash bail for non-violent offenses and pretrial detention. Critics say the law, which took effect Jan. 1, has made communities less safe.
State Sens. Tom O’Mara, (R-Big Flats), Pam Helming, (R-Canandaigua), and Rich Funke, (R-Perinton), count themselves as critics. O’Mara has launched an online “Repeal Bail Reform” petition, giving area residents a chance to express their opposition to the newly enacted, controversial state law.
“Governor Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrat majorities are responsible for this bail reform disaster and refuse to recognize the danger it’s posing every single day to our communities and neighborhoods,” said O’Mara, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “These so-called ‘reforms’ as they stand are nothing more than a jailbreak sending potentially dangerous criminals back into our communities and neighborhoods, day after day, with no safeguards. Democrats keep shrugging off the warnings and that’s irresponsible, to say the least.”
Last week in Albany the Senate GOP proposed a repeal amendment, which O’Mara co-sponsored, that was defeated along party lines. O’Mara noted that the controversial bail reform law was enacted last year without the support of a single Republican in the Senate or Assembly. The senator charged that it is creating a system of criminal justice in New York State that releases violent criminals back into the community without supervision and fully capable of threatening their victims, the victim’s family members, trial witnesses, and others.
The rhetoric on the issue is a source of frustration for Green, he said, as he noted that for years and years, people have been released after posting bail, pending trial.
But, those who can afford the bail are released; he said a kid from a dirt-poor family “sits in jail until his case is heard,” Green said, adding that could be as long as three to five years, in some New York City boroughs.
“That, in my opinion, is inherently wrong,” Green said.
When presented with a case in Penn Yan where a man was arrested, ticketed, and released five times in four days, only to be arrested a sixth time within hours, Green said he would not comment on “anecdotal”cases. He did say that Gov. Cuomo has indicated a willingness to work with the Legislature to improve the law, but what’s needed are data and facts to drive the debate.
“We want to be safe, but in my opinion, we also want to be fair,” Green said. “Long-term peace involves a system of fairness.”
State of the State local impact
Green touted Cuomo’s 2020 agenda as outlined in his State of the State address earlier this month.
Green said some of the proposals will have a positive impact in the Finger Lakes, particularly as it relates to the environment.
For instance, the Democratic governor’s climate change focus is shown in the proposed $3 billion Mother Nature Bond Act, which could lead to the dredging of the Cayuga Inlet and a new Bath Fish Hatchery cisco rearing facility, as well as taking a continued aggressive effort to combat algae blooms in the Finger Lakes, Green said.
Efforts will continue to attract manufacturers and other businesses associated with the electric vehicle industry — and to develop infrastructure “so we have charging stations that we need,” Green said.
Includes reporting by John Christensen