MONTICELLO – A media event aimed at discussing the connection between bail reform and opioid addiction developed into a standoff between a group of bail reform proponents and anti-bail reform officials.
Wednesday afternoon, during an event organized by State Senate 42nd District Republican candidate Mike Martucci, Minority Leader Rob Ortt, and Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff, local activists and officials clashed to the point of the event being halted.
Sheriff Schiff said their position is that bail reform is creating a situation for addicts to be released from jail, back onto the streets, where they will have a high chance of relapse.
“When we arrest somebody for drugs now, they turn around and walk out. If you’ve got somebody who is an addict and they were trying to get drugs, or need drugs, they’re just going out and getting more drugs,” said Schiff. “Before, we could hold them and most the time parents, everybody, would go onboard and not bail them. You can either sit in jail or, you can go into a program,” he said.
Martucci echoed Schiff’s perspective on bail reform and its effects on the opioid-dependent/addict population.
“An important provision of bail reform to highlight, is the fact that so many folks are mandatorily released from incarceration, from jail, and they don’t have the opportunity to participate in drug treatment programs that are offered in the jail,” said Martucci. “That’s one of our big concerns about the bail reform law, is that it doesn’t allow that treatment program to take place in the jail facilities where it was traditionally taking place,” he said.
Upset local activists countered with the perspective that drug treatment should be handled by the medical sector and not the judicial system. Local activist Kathy Aberman said she believes what incited the intense, vocal response from the bail reform advocates was a mixture of how the event was advertised, along with their belief the event was a veiled attempt to smear the senate majority rather than promote progress for addict treatment programs and a reasonable bail reform discussion.
“Absolutely we should have bail reform and if we need to tweak it and fix it, but all the stuff they put out about it is just lies,” said Abraham. “It’s not consequential to bail reform, so I’m just disgusted,” she said.
Local demonstrators selected Village of Monticello Mayor George Nikolados to speak on their behalf.
“This has been an issue here in Sullivan County for almost a decade. We’ve had the highest addiction and overdose rate in the state for, I think, six years that predates bail reform,” said Nikolados. “If they really wanted to do something about this issue, they’d be down at the Sullivan County Legislature, right now, and talking to them about the cuts they’ve made during the pandemic for the services that help people with addiction,” he said.
The Republican officials declared bail reform, and their position that it exacerbates the opioid epidemic, to be a consequence of the Democratic majority that voted on the bill in the state senate.
The Democrat-controlled State Senate Majority has passed 22 bills, in the last two years, for various improvements and increases in funding for opioid epidemic related services, in addition to the bail reform legislation.
“We cannot arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic. At-risk youth, veterans, and seniors suffering from chronic pain, and people who feel trapped by the lack of opportunity in their lives all need different solutions,” said Democratic Senator Jen Metzger. “I have worked to address this crisis through legislation widening access to overdose reversal medications, ensuring insurance coverage of treatments, and broadening access to evidence-based treatment. We need to continue to build upon this work.”