Watervliet police: serial offender shows lack of resources in bail reform laws

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WATERVLIET – James Merriwether, 58, was arrested last month and charged with burglary.

He has been arrested 68 times over the years, with 59 convictions said police, and failed to appear in at least 18 of his cases.

He’s served a little time behind bars, here and there.

Merriwether is a prime example of bail reform laws not providing the resources they were supposed to, Watervliet Police Chief Joseph Centanni said.

“The legislators do not want to give judges the discretion to consider the danger someone poses to the community,” said Centanni. “But they are not providing the mental health, drug rehabilitation, and homelessness issue that they promised.”

Albany County District Attorney David Soares said, “The criminal justice system also offers a variety of diversion opportunities for people who have unique challenges, but those people have to show up. For them, we need additional tools to protect citizens and business owners.”

Albany County Assistant Public Defender Rebecca Sokol said considering dangerousness is a slippery slope, but she agrees with the chief about resources, to a certain extent.

“I mean, we’ve seen this issue for years, and it’s something that, even though someone like me is really trying to get someone services, there aren’t that many in the community, or that many spots available, that many beds, so to a certain degree I would agree with that,” said Sokol. “We could be doing a whole lot more to help certain individuals with issues to prevent them from coming back into the criminal justice system.”

Merriwether was released to the supervision of probation last week.