ITHACA, N.Y. —Pressured by some moderate Democrats and a widespread campaign by Republicans, the state legislature made some amendments to slightly roll back last year’s provisions on eliminating cash bail.
According to legislation including in this year’s budget, judges will now be able to require individuals to post cash bail if they’re accused of one of 115 criminal offenses. Many of these include charges dealing with weapons, sex trafficking and violent offenses.
“Certainly the reform is an improvement from the initial no-bail disaster,” state senator Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats) said in a statement to the Ithaca Voice. “I do believe, however, that this reform does not go nearly far enough. It still does not allow judges the discretion to consider the dangerousness of the accused.”
The bail reform debate was one of the most contentious legislative battles in Albany this year with Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins pushed for changes while the more progressive Assembly stood its ground on the measure.
A spokesperson for Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) did not return repeated requests for comment, but she’s previously told the Ithaca Voice that while she supported some tweaks to the bail reform measure she believed judges had plenty of discretion and options beyond bail.
Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten has previously expressed concerns about the new bail law, but has generally been supportive of the legislation’s intended purpose.
“Ultimately, the values that we have as a community reflect that no one should be incarcerated because of a lack of financial resources when someone who is wealthy remains free for the same charge,” Van Houten told the Ithaca Voice. “This affects people of color disproportionately and is not something that we can tolerate in Tompkins County. We are very careful and thoughtful when it comes to our input, as the DA’s Office, in cases where the Court is considering bail and we will continue to be careful and thoughtful going forward with the revisions to the bail reforms.”
The legislation also redirected funds from seizures made by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to by redistributed to other prosecutors which have claimed to be facing significant burdens under the state’s new discovery statutes. Van Houten said he hasn’t received any guidance on how much of the $40 million being redistributed will end up in Tompkins County. Last month, the county legislature appropriated $10,000 for evidence testing and $5,000 for a dedicated internet service from its contingent fund as a result of unexpected expenses from the justice reforms.