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Criminal justice advocates talk cash bail reform

Thomas O'Neil-White

The Frank E. Merriweather library held a community discussion Wednesday night on new bail reforms set to take effect in the state in January.

A panel of criminal justice advocates discussed how new bail reforms will affect residents of the state and Erie County.

Legal Aid Bureau Attorney Rebecca Town said the country is currently at a tipping point when it comes to jailing its citizens.

“We incarcerate people at a very high rate, especially pre-trial,” she said. “Individuals who are just facing a charge and have not been convicted of anything.”

For people who cannot afford to post bail after an arrest, Town said eliminating the cash bail system for non-violent arrests will ease the financial and domestic burdens associated with being stuck in jail.

Credit Thomas O'Neil-White

“People going through the criminal justice system now will be able to fight their charges from outside,” she said. “They’re going to be able to come to court themselves, to keep their jobs, to keep their children, to not have major disruptions in their life by being held in jail before they’ve been found guilty of anything.”

Folks may worry these reforms will let violent criminals back on the streets but Town says the legislations applies to misdemeanors and non-violent crimes. Cash bail can still be applied to violent crimes.

A study by the Vera Institute of Justice says if implemented effectively, the new bail laws could reduce the pre-trial jail population by at least 40%.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Thomas moved to Western New York at the age of 14. A graduate of Buffalo State College, he majored in Communications Studies and was part of the sports staff for WBNY. When not following his beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats and Boston Red Sox, Thomas enjoys coaching youth basketball, reading Tolkien novels and seeing live music.
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