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Rensselaer County holding forums on criminal justice reforms

Emily De Vito
Updated: December 10, 2019 09:31 AM
Created: December 09, 2019 11:11 PM

TROY – Rensselaer County held its first of three forums on criminal justice reforms set to take place in New York on Jan. 1.  

The Rensselaer County Executive, Sheriff and District Attorney were all in attendance to speak about their concerns and hope for the state to pump the brakes on rolling it out.

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Supporters of it have said current bail and pretrial laws unfairly impact poor communities.

Rensselaer County District Attorney Mary Pat Donnelly said her biggest concern with the changes is that judges can no longer make decisions based on individual cases.

“Judges can no longer evaluate whether or not they think someone is going to come back and that crazy example I gave is it's my birthday I'm not coming back they can say that now and the judge cannot set bail,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly is also concerned about handing over evidence to the defense in just 15 days. That evidence will include a witness list with their names and addresses.

“They’re fearful now, there’s a lack of trust in certain communities and now we have to look them in the eye and say yup absolutely I’m giving him your name and your identifying information and I have to do it soon in the next two weeks,” explained Donnelly.

One of the biggest concerns from Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin is that there’s no funding to go along with these changes.

"This is costing us at least $750,000 this year," explained McLaughlin. “If we were going to do absolutely everything it would probably be over $2 million that it would cost the taxpayers of Rensselaer County."

People had the chance to speak out and ask questions Monday night. One resident was concerned about with money now being put toward this what that means for youth programs that keep children away from crime.

Another resident pointed out that leaders said these reforms could’ve been rolled out differently, and she wanted to know what changes could have been made so there wasn’t so much concern about Jan. 1.

"The solution that I think easily off the top of my head is that we presumptive release,” said Donnelly. "You shouldn't be setting bail unless and if you're going to set bail you need to articulate why and then maybe have another judge review in 48 hours, bring the person back to court and reevaluate the circumstances."

The next forum will be held on Thursday, Dec. 12 at Schaghticoke Town Hall. The final forum will be held Wednesday, Dec. 18 at Schodack Town Hall.


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