The following is a letter to the editor submitted by Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell:
As Putnam County Executive, I have no higher priority than to ensure our communities are safe. That’s why I completely object to New York State’s new criminal justice reform law, which bans judges from imposing bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. This law, which went into effect Jan. 1, takes crucial decision-making away from judges who can no longer listen to the facts and weigh whether the person in front of them poses a threat to society. Instead, judges have no choice in most cases but to just release people who have been accused of everything from assault to stalking to criminally negligent homicide.
Right here in our county, three people had to be released from the Putnam County Jail as soon as the new law went into effect. One of them, who was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal car accident, was immediately picked up by ICE. Two others were released on their own recognizance and we can only hope they choose to return for their next appointed court appearance.
We don’t want to see anyone whose situation doesn’t warrant it be kept in jail needlessly while awaiting trial, but that’s where a judge’s discretion comes in.
Legal experts say that in some cases being held in jail on bail before trial can actually help a defendant. Those who are suffering from drug addiction or mental illness often have more support services available to them in jail than when they are released. Considering we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic that is killing thousands of people every year, requiring addicts to spend time in a drug-free environment can be life-saving. Again, this should be up to a judge who has studied all the facts to decide.
I am calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to take a time-out and put this reckless policy on hold until a public discussion of criminal justice reform is held in counties throughout the state.
Putnam County Executive