Mayors join chorus of concerns over 2020 criminal justice reforms

Nov 19, 2019

Mayors across New York state are the latest to express concerns about the bail reform and other criminal justice law changes that take effect in January. The mayors say they don't have the resources or money to properly carry out the new laws.


Freeport Mayor Robert Kennedy speaks about the cost of criminal justice reforms. He is joined by other members of the New York State Conference of Mayors.
Credit Karen DeWitt

Beginning in January, cash bail will end for all misdemeanors and most nonviolent felony crimes in New York. There also will be changes to what are known as the discovery laws that will require prosecutors to disclose within 15 days all of the evidence against people accused of crimes. 

The New York Conference of Mayors is joining the state's district attorneys' and sheriffs' associations in voicing worries about the logistics of carrying out the new laws. 

Binghamton Mayor Richard David, who is the group's first vice president, says his city does not have enough people to comply with the changes.  

"We do not currently have the staffing to meet the timeline that's in place right now," David said.   

Robert Kennedy, mayor of Freeport on Long Island and president of the group, said it's going to cost his village of about 43,000 people $2.2 million each year to comply with the 15-day requirement for the average 1,100 arrests that take place in Freeport each year.

He said he'll need to add staff and upgrade antiquated technology to get all of the evidence to the prosecutors within the time frame.  

"Every radio transmission recording from the officers and transmissions from all 911 calls would be included," Kennedy said. "Every body camera from every police officer will have to be downloaded from the cloud." 

He said the increased staff, overtime hours for police and software updates will add an estimated 5.7% spending increase to his budget in a state where there is a 2% per-year property tax cap.

Polls show that most New Yorkers support the reforms. Advocates who worked for passage of the laws, including Nicole Triplett with the New York Civil Liberties Union, say the municipalities and law enforcement groups are not taking into consideration other costs that the current laws bring.

The current discovery laws have resulted in thousands of low-income people housed in local jails, often for months at a time, while they awaited court action for nonviolent crime charges. Triplett said many who are jailed because they cannot meet bail lose their jobs and sometimes lose custody of their children because they are unable to support them.  

"The costs that people have historically borne from this system has been hugely expensive," Triplett said. "I don't think the costs that these folks are facing should be considered in a vacuum." 

Triplett said the savings from having fewer pretrial defendants in jail might help fund staff and other resources to help comply with the new discovery law timelines.

Triplett said the changes to New York's laws are within the normal range of statutes in other states. She said the state of Texas has successfully implemented similar discovery reforms. And the state of New Jersey eliminated much of its cash bail system in 2017, without a major increase in recidivism or failures to appear in court. 

"By passing it, we're not out of the norm," Triplett said. 

She said when the changes happen in January, New York will go from one of the worst states for discovery disclosure to one of the best.

David said despite what he said are the hardships involved, he intends to comply with the new laws.