Public safety and the safety of our law enforcement officers are at risk. Effective Jan. 1, sweeping new criminal justice reforms will take effect, including the elimination of cash bail, which has existed since the 1600s, for many crimes that our town justices address daily. Accused offenders will be released within hours.
While those laws are intended to make the criminal justice process more equal for low-income defendants — an admirable purpose — the practical applications of those laws, which were adopted without public input or funding, will have a tremendous adverse impact on our community.
The county jail in Riverside will be releasing approximately 400 prisoners. The release of those being held will affect our downtown and communities. Transportation or funds will not be given to those released. Where do you think they will go?
Riverhead was selected as part of a pilot program for these new laws and their impacts are immense. I have spoken to our local justices, police department, the undersheriff and corrections to learn the impacts of the new laws and I am extremely disturbed as a taxpayer by their reports.
This unfunded mandate will require the town to expand the hours and operation of our courts, hire more staff, law clerks, and purchase software to implement the new rules — estimated at a total cost of more than $500,000.
People charged with misdemeanors and most nonviolent felonies will be brought down to the station, fingerprinted and released within hours — including even drug dealers who sell drugs on school properties and people who commit vehicular manslaughter. The PD or court will give them a notice to come back to the judge within 20 days. The info on the arrest must be electronically sent over to the D.A. within 24 hours. Our justice court must remind the accused of their court date by their preferred method, text, email or phone call, five days before court in their language (that’s if they give the correct information on how to be reached). If they don’t appear, a warrant is issued by the judge. When they are picked up on the warrant, the process starts all over again. They are released with a new court date. It is not considered persistent unwillingness to appear until the second warrant and third time picked up.
Under new laws governing pretrial discovery, all complainants, witnesses’ names, addresses and phone numbers must now be given to the defense. Criminals will have the right to inspect the crime scene, which could be your home.
In speaking with our local officials, there is a solution to the dilemma intended to be solved by these reforms: The state could create a three judge panel (using our existing judges) who would be assigned to expedited bail review and those judges could then quickly review and require (or not) bail that merits the crime, or assign a program that could benefit the accused.
Unfortunately, the state once again pulled the trigger on this legislation without fully vetting it – all at the expense of your safety, the revitalization of our downtown and your wallet. Call your state representatives and ask them to take a step back to better evaluate the impact of these changes on small, middle class communities like ours.
Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) is a Riverhead Town councilwoman.
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