Tags: criminals | early release | new york | bail reform act

NY Criminals' Early Release Threatens Public Safety

NY Criminals' Early Release Threatens Public Safety
(Nonthawan Pisessith/Dreamstime.com)

By Monday, 16 December 2019 04:16 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Our leaders need to think very carefully about the implications of recent moves to release both convicted criminals and those charged with crimes from prison. In the rush to advance sentencing and bail reforms something important has not been adequately considered: the threat to the community.

Determining who gets out of jail and who stays in should be guided by a very basic rule: what’s best not just for the offender, but what’s best to protect the law-abiding public. Replacing mandatory sentencing laws with mandatory release laws makes no sense either. Yet that’s what is likely to happen in New York under an ill-considered law passed by the State Legislature this year.

The so-called Bail Reform Act was tucked into unrelated New York state budget bills without adequate hearings or public consideration. Hiding such measures in the state budget is an all too convenient way of getting laws passed that would likely not be enacted if considered on their own merits.

What this Bail Reform Act does is reduce judicial discretion in setting bail for all but the most violent offenders. New York law previously granted judges the discretion to set bail based the “flight risk” a freed alleged offender might pose. But under the new law judges would have no flexibility to set bail on defendants charged with such serious crimes as manslaughter, robbery, stalking, selling guns to a minor, or making a terrorist threat.

Think especially about that last one. Imagine a suspected terrorist who threatens to detonate a bomb. He or she can’t be held on bail, gets released, and then commits the very act originally threatened. The public outcry would be immediate and fully justified. The British public just learned this sad lesson when a convicted terrorist was given early “compassionate release” from prison only to stab two innocent Londoners to death before police were able to kill the terrorist.

Other potentially dangerous results of the ill-advised Bail Reform Act abound. Widely respected law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges warn that because the new law applies retroactively, thousands of New York prisoners could be eligible for mass release this month or early January 2020. Other provisions in the Bail Reform Act would allow released defendants for such crimes as breaking and entering to obtain detailed personal information on their victims, and even to photograph the interior of the victim’s home. That’s a gift to criminals on top of a get-out-of-jail-free card!

Politicians of all stripes tend to make a mishmash of this issue, confusing compassionate treatment of prisoners with considered protection of the public. Much of this debate originally centered on the idea that some people in our prisons are serving sentences that are out of proportion with their crimes. Oft cited examples are those serving long “mandatory” sentences for marijuana offenses imposed under tough anti-drug laws, while marijuana is being decriminalized and even legalized across the country.

Keeping these offenders locked up is a lot like keeping bootleggers in jail after Prohibition was lifted. Punishing for what’s no longer a crime makes little sense; fundamental fairness dictates that these sentences be reduced or eliminated. Adding to the justice of shortening such sentences is the unfortunate fact that too many of those incarcerated for marijuana offenses are people of color. In these cases, sentencing reform makes good sense and is the right thing to do.

This concern with unfair sentences is what led Congress to pass the “First Step Act” last year with large bi-partisan majorities, which President Trump then signed into law. Even the president’s loudest liberal critics had to give him begrudging credit for this criminal justice reform, which restored greater sentencing flexibility to the federal court system.

But restoring more discretion to judges to do what’s fair is a far cry from what sentencing and bail reform have morphed into. Not all those serving long prison sentences deserve to have those sentences shortened or commuted. To call for shortening sentences for violent crimes makes a mockery of justice and ignores the rights of the victims of these crimes.

Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders must address this impending flood of potential criminals onto our streets. Fortunately, bi-partisan state legislation has been introduced to correct these glaring defects in the Bail Reform Act. It would restore discretion to judges to set bail based on defendants’ flight risk, previous criminal record, and potential danger to the public. Let’s hope this common-sense proposal prevails in Albany!

This column was originally published in the Long Island Herald Community Newspapers.

Former Senator D’Amato served a distinguished 18-year career in the U.S. Senate, where he chaired the Senate Banking Committee and was a member of the Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees. While in the Senate, Mr. D’Amato also Chaired of the U.S. Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE), and served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The former Senator is considered an expert in the legislative and political process, who maintains close relationships with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He is regularly called upon for his advice and counsel, and is recognized for his incisive analysis of national and international political affairs. The former Senator will share insights gained from his years in Washington “with a clear-eyed view of the political forces that shape the world we live in today.” To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Our leaders need to think very carefully about the implications of recent moves to release both convicted criminals and those charged with crimes from prison.
criminals, early release, new york, bail reform act
Monday, 16 December 2019 04:16 PM
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