In January 2020 a new criminal justice reform law went into effect that allows New York to release people that cannot afford bail. Jeannie McBride of New York State says that judges can not hold anyone arrested for a misdemeanor, or even some of those charged with felonies on cash bail. Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour, said, “The judge will have to go in and ‘ROR’ them, release them on their own recognizance”.
“I have to get paperwork from a judge. So they will have to see a judge. I would guess that there could be 75 to 100 that could possibly get released when this law goes into effect,” he said. It takes time to process people out.
District attorneys do not ask for bail unless there is a significant reason. Sheriff Voutour says that he doesn’t know it the new law will reduce the number of inmates, “If they’re in for 20 days before they are convicted and they get sentenced to 20 days, they get time served,” he said. “What’s going to happen is now that they don’t go in on bail, there’s no time accumulated. So now if they get sentenced to 20 days, now they have to come and serve those 20 days.”, and that the issuance of warrants will increase.
This week, Kathy Hochul, “the New York Governor is directing the state parole board to immediately release 191 prison inmates amid the crisis at Rikers Island that has worsened over the course of the pandemic.” states Jeannie McBride. “On Friday, Hochul signed a new law to help reduce incarceration among those who have been jailed due to technical parole violations, such as missing curfew, marijuana use or arriving late to a meeting with a parole officer.”
It is estimated that about 270 inmates at Riker’s Island will be released. “They have served their sentences under Less is More, but they should not have to wait until the enactment date,” Hochul said. Under the Less is More Act, Hochul also ordered around 200 inmates at Rikers to be transferred to state prison facilities to relieve severe overcrowding.
Rikers has always been known to keep inmates in horrific conditions, and the covid pandemic has made it worse. Over 2,200 New York’s Department of Corrections suffered employees became infected with COVID-19. There are not enough jailers to hold people in the horrific cells anymore. Some reports show that the facility holds people in units that do not even have beds.
This year, 10 people at Rikers have died. At least five by suicide. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to improve conditions at Rikers. He wants to require absent prison guards to get a doctor’s note if they’re out for more than a day, speed inmate intake procedures and fix infrastructure problems.
Hochul says, “It is about protecting human life, the lives of the people who are incarcerated as well as correctional officers. It’s also about protecting human dignity,” she added. “This questions who we are as a people when we can allow situations as we’ve seen at Rikers to exist in a prosperous, mighty city like New York. The fact that this exists is an indictment on everyone.”