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Erie County message to Albany: End cash bail

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New York State should slash the number of people who are held after arrest because they can't come up with cash bail. That is the message the Erie County Legislature sent to Albany Thursday.

If you are arrested and can make bail, you walk out of the courtroom with the order to return for further legal action.

If you can't make bail - even for a relatively low-level misdemeanor - you head to the Erie County Holding Center until the entire case is worked out.

A lot of people can't make bail and wind up inside, potentially for a long time, even without being convicted. There is a large push for bail reform, especially for those misdemeanor cases.

Legislature Majority Leader April Baskin spent months putting together a resolution acceptable to a majority asking Albany to end cash bail.

"We've come to a place where this body agreed to be able to support an initiative that will first reduce the amount of food and clothing and medical care needed at our Holding Center and, secondly, just allow the taxpayers of Erie County to no longer be burdened housing low-level offenders that pose no risk to our community," Baskin said.

For Legislator Barbara Miller-Williams, it is an issue of fairness, that disparate treatment of rich and poor. She knows the issues, as a retired Buffalo Police officer with years of experience taking people to Central Booking.

"There are those who don't have the economic means to afford bail and unfortunately it is minorities, it is those that are underemployed or unemployed, and they find themselves at the Holding Center because they simply cannot afford it and that's not fair," said Miller-Williams. "That's an inequity that we definitely have to address. Where those who are economically able to do it. They can post bail and they're out."

Miller-Williams said judges have to bear some responsibility because there are alternatives to incarceration and misdemeanor arrests don't lead to diversion often enough.

Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo said he has escaped this issue in his private law practice.

"I've been fortunate in my career that I haven't had to deal with situations like that," Lorigo said. "I know it happens. I know it's unfortunate. That's something that the state should look at in further detail."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been saying since very early this year he wants to do something about cash bail and has moved it very high on his 2019 to-do list.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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