It is no secret major changes in New York's criminal laws are starting to take effect. More take effect Jan. 1. Judges at an anti-violence forum Wednesday evening said they are reviewing their cases for those who will be released from prison.
Some judges are already putting the laws into effect to ease the transition starting with the new year. Erie County Judge Susan Maxwell Barnes told the panel discussion her staff is already looking at her pending cases to see who will have to be released because cash bail is mostly being ended Jan. 1.
During the meeting, anti-violence worker Spencer Cowart told of his time behind bars and how he worked to avoid going back.
"Every other week I'm going back and forth and guess what? I've got no violations, not one. Not one late curfew, nothing," Cowart said. "One of my goals was to do right."
Judge Kevin Carter, supervising judge for family courts across the eight counties of Western New York, told the meeting of the problem of young black men walking the streets with weapons, being arrested and facing time behind bars, potentially much time. Carter said he had no idea how bad things were until he took over the court's youth part.
"Since Oct. 1, 2018, 200 children between 13 and 18 years old. Two-hundred. And in 150-60 of those cases, weapon possession," he said.
The statistic did not appear to surprise many in the audience, an audience with members of anti-violence groups like SNUG and the Stop the Violence Coalition. A show of hands at the meeting indicated many in the audience have been involved with the justice system, past or present, from jail time to probation.