County officials preparing for changes as bail reform measures take effect
MAYVILLE — Next year, bail reform will affect Chautauqua County and change the court system. Until then, county officials involved in the criminal justice system are preparing for the changes.
The Community Justice Coordinating Council met recently where the conversation of planning bail reform was discussed. The council spent much of its last meeting in June discussing the same issue and the impending impacts of the state mandated reform.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Jim Quattrone served as the meeting’s facilitator, filling in for Patrick Johnson who normally coordinates the council.
“Do we need to think about changing what (our) subcommittees are especially in light of this bail reform?” Quattrone asked the committee leading the continued discussion on bail reform from the previous meeting.
With the expansion on who qualifies for bail, the Chautauqua County Jail will likely have less individuals in the jail awaiting sentencing. Additionally, those who would typically be under county supervision during their pre-sentencing will now be available for bail.
“I think we have to be proactive and think about how we are going to handle the changes that are going happen after the first of the year,” Quattrone said.
Quattrone referenced the previous meeting where concerns were raised about access to offenders before they are let back into the community.
At the previous meeting, Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson critiqued bail reform and its implications.
Under the new law, most charged with misdemeanors and non-violent felonies will be released under supervision (RUS).
Included in the New York State executive budget were the changes to the court system. Mainly, the range of crimes that a judge can set bail was diminished. Swanson said state legislators narrowed down the violent offenses on which the district attorney’s office can apply for bail.
Swanson estimated that 80% of the county’s court appearances will be eligible for presumptive release or RUS, under the new law.
At the last meeting, Swanson admitted he was “less than optimistic” about the transition.
During July’s meeting, Quattrone and those gathered from various county agencies involved in the court system expressed concerns about how the council and the county will adapt Jan. 1 when bail reform changes are in place.
The council agreed the focus should now be on re-entry programs for inmates going back into society. The existing program Ready Set Work was used as an example of programming that helps offenders prepare themselves for the workforce. The program, Thinking For A Change, was also discussed. The program was previously offered in the county.
The sheriff stated that the council and the county should be “proactive” with adapting.
Christine Schuyler, Chautauqua County public health director, agreed. She noted that when CJCC was restarted several years ago, the goal was to reduce the jail population. Now with bail reform likely reducing the county jail’s population, she reiterated that the focus of the council should be on re-entry.
A primary concern of the council is recidivism, especially for those who are now being granted bail who would otherwise be under the court’s supervision with access to certain services during pre-sentencing.
“We may have to figure out how we want to better connect and better manage those who are involved in the legal system,” Schuyler said.
Quattrone said the focus should be on the entire criminal justice system and not just the jail going forward.
The council set its next meeting for Sept. 11.