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As predicted, county jail population falls

Photo by Jordan W. Patterson County officials told Community Justice Coordinating Council members that the Chautauqua County Jail population is down by about 100 inmates. Many believe the decrease is due to recent bail reform.

MAYVILLE — The Chautauqua County Jail population is down as predicted by many local officials in 2019.

Captain Jim Crowell of the Chautauqua County Jail informed members of the Community Justice Coordinating Council that the population of the jail was down about 100 inmates compared to its typical average. As of Wednesday, the jail was housing 137 males and 14 females, Crowell said.

“Which is a lot less than where we’ve been in the past,” Crowell said, adding that the decrease in population has made more space available in the jail.

Many county officials believed current bail reform would have an impact on the jail’s population leading into 2020.

Last year, the New York State Legislature approved two criminal justice reforms that have since taken effect impacting how discovery and bail are handled.

Regarding bail reform, many non-violent offenders are now being issued appearance tickets at the time of arrest instead of being taken into jail. Under the law change, district attorneys are limited to the offenses that they can request bail. More than 400 offenses are considered “non-qualifying” and are not eligible for bail, with some exceptions. Offenders will be given appearance tickets and released on their own recognizance, or ROR.

Under certain circumstances like violating an order of protection, individuals can have their ROR revoked

Members of the CJCC were concerned that bail reform would lead to more criminals skipping court dates and entering back into the community without supervision by the court system. However, Chautauqua County Public Defender Ned Barone said it’s too early tell.

“I will say though, I think that the jury is still out when it comes to the impact it might have on different concerns that some of this group had regarding possible subsequent violence by the accused if they’re released,” Barone said at Wednesday’s CJCC meeting. “I don’t think we’ve had an opportunity yet to see what effect that may have.”

Barone has been vocal of the new changes calling certain criticisms from the opposition as “fear mongering” and has often referred to the new laws as “a longtime coming.”

Barone continued to discuss recent impacts of criminal justice reforms and praised the assistance from the Magistrates Association and the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office.

“We’ve seen a positive impact at least from our end when it comes to the release of individuals — the accused — and I think that it’s been positive from our end,” he said, adding that the decreased jail population should be seen as an opportunity.

During last week’s meeting, Sheriff Jim Quattrone again said the goal is to eventually implement diversion programs to offer local services to those in need at the time of arrest or instead of an arrest. Quattrone again used an example of the program Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, an initiative used in Albany. For example, in Chautauqua County individuals suffering from mental illness or addiction could be diverted to local agencies for help available 24/7 instead of being arrested and charged with a crime.

“I hope to get some diversion programs going. I know diversion might be the wrong term because we’re not completely diverting them from jail because they’re not going to be going to jail,” Quattrone said. “It’s an opportunity to work with law enforcement if we stop somebody or come in contact with somebody who does desire assistance then we need to be more proactive of getting the right help they need.”

Crowell continued to discuss the impact of current jail population and the future of the jail. He speculated that the jail will see more sentenced inmates as opposed to pre-sentence inmates waiting arraignment due to bail reform. However, Crowell questioned if the jail population will increase once the system adjusts to the new changes with more sentenced inmates being remanded to jail.

As for the impact of discovery reform, Barone said the Public Defender’s office has been developing a plan to handle the changes.

Under the new law, district attorney offices across New York state will have 15 days to present full discovery evidence in all cases or they will be dismissed. This is a change that Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson has been highly critical of.

While Barone views discovery change also as a positive, he is seeking clarification from the state regarding discrepancies with cases that occurred prior to Jan.1, when the law went into effect.

“I think without question that it absolutely applies to every case prior to Jan. 1,” Barone said. “All those people that were either arrested or indicted are entitled to benefit from the new discovery law as well. That’s something we’re going to have to clear up over the next few weeks.”

Additionally, some extra work was put into handling the digital copies of discovery that have been submitted to the Public Defender’s Office.

Regarding the overall impact of the criminal justice reforms, Barone said it was “still very early” to definitively say.

“It’s a learning process right now, but for the most past it’s an absolute plus,” Barone added. “It remains to be seen what will happen over a period of time, but right now we’re happy with it.”

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