Pro football Hall of Famer and former Buffalo Bills star running back Thurman Thomas sat before an Erie County Legislature committee Thursday, expressing his support for cash bail reform in New York State.
Thomas, in his remarks to the Public Safety Committee, spoke of disparity in the justice system and how the current bail system takes an already potentially devastating situation and makes it worse, especially for poorer citizens. He is in support of proposed cash bail reform that would eliminate the practice for cases of alleged misdemeanors.
Following his testimony, Thomas explained he has become involved to serve, like many of his pro football peers, as a voice for fellow African-Americans who lack his stature and, in turn, the public's attention.
"It's important to me because I see all these laws don't help us as a community," he said. "We need to start helping our community a little bit more."
Among the problems with bail, he explained in Legislature chambers, is that bail bond companies will charge as much as ten percent interest, further deeping what could already be a financially crippling blow to many families.
"You've got to get out. Hopefully you'll still have your job to get your paycheck and pay the bills, and then you've got to pay the ten percent back to the bail bondsman," Thomas said. "That's a lot for a people who are not making a lot of money here in the inner city of Buffalo, and that's where the problem is."
Among those sitting on the Public Safety Committee is Legislator Lynne Dixon. She told reporters following the hearing that she and her peers need to weigh the dollars and sense of cash bail, as well as alternatives.
"I think we have to look at everything," she said. "When you figure how budgets are made and where you rely on revenue coming from. Certainly bail is one of those places. Of course, it also costs 265 dollars per day or so to house an inmate."
She does support the idea of alternatives to bail for those accused of minor crimes.
"We're talking about low-level misdemeanor offenses," she said. "If they're not repeat offenders, if they don't have a history of not showing up in court when they are supposed to, then I would think other measures like electronic monitoring, like lowering bail, seems to be quite fair."
The full legislature is expected to soon vote on a resolution that, if passed, would call on state lawmakers to change the cash bail system in New York State.