Albany DA David Soares. Albany District Attorney David Soares. Photo: Tim Roske

This year’s state budget in New York included a set of comprehensive reforms to the state’s cash bail system intended to keep more people out of jail before trial, but lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo chose not to allocate special funding for pretrial services agencies that will bear the brunt of those changes.

Lawmakers have said they’ll consider allocating funds from the state’s coffers at some point in the future to pay for what’s expected to be an increased demand for pretrial services, but that this year’s state budget did not include such a boost.

What it partly came down to, sources said, was time. Lawmakers didn’t know what the final legislation on bail reform was going to look like until days before it was approved earlier this week. The new system will eliminate cash bail for misdemeanor and most nonviolent felony charges, along with a series of other crimes carved out in the legislation.

Democrats involved in the negotiations said they plan to continue discussions on whether the state should set aside additional funds to support the new law, which doesn’t take effect until the beginning of next year. Pretrial services agencies are funded differently throughout the state, but many receive a significant portion of their funding from counties and municipalities.

The state’s new laws on pretrial detention are intended to increase the number of people who are allowed to remain out of jail before their trial, rather than remanded into custody. Judges will be allowed to require that the defendant, as part of their release, be under the supervision of, or in contact with, their local pretrial services agency. Those agencies are generally tasked with overseeing defendants released before trial.

They’ll also be tasked with sending reminders to defendants about their upcoming court date. The legislation requires officers to issue appearance tickets to more defendants, rather than make an arrest. Pretrial services agencies can be required, under the legislation, to make contact with those defendants and issue reminders.

That’s expected to put new pressure on pretrial services agencies, which operate in each county across the state. Craig McNair, president of the New York Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, said they’re expecting a heavier workload because of the reforms, including more clients and additional responsibilities mandated under the statute.

“We’ve always anticipated that there will be an increase in need for supervision and monitoring,” McNair said. “If clients are not held and are released we would then think that equates to more clients coming our way, so it would require additional staff.”

That doesn’t mean the organization, which represents the state’s pretrial services agencies, was opposed to the reforms. McNair said their concern was over whether funding would be included to accommodate the changes, since many pretrial services agencies are already stretched for resources as it is.

“There’s a mixture of what the need would be, but I can tell you as president of NYAPSA, there was a need, in general, for additional funding for pretrial services agencies even before this,” McNair said. “Certainly, this is a good thing, I think, for the state and taking a real good look at bail and criminal justice reform. But at the same time, like anything we do, it needs to be able to be properly implemented with funding.”

A spokesman from the state Division of Budget said that, while there isn’t a specific funding line to reimburse counties for pretrial services agencies in the budget, some provisions of the spending plan will provide more than $200 million in new revenue for those governments. Those revenue-raisers include legislation to require sales tax to be collected by internet marketplace providers and the elimination of certain sales tax exemptions related to the distribution of gas or electricity.

The new reforms will also save local governments money by keeping more defendants out of local jails, the spokesman said.

“The [budget] includes groundbreaking legislation going into effect next year that dramatically reforms New York’s bail system, ensuring that approximately 90 percent of cases where people are charged, but not yet convicted, will remain out of jail before their day in court,” said Freeman Klopott, DOB spokesman. “This will provide savings for local governments, which have always supported pretrial services, as the enacted budget delivers more than $200 million to county governments through new revenue sources.”

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York was opposed to both the substance of the reforms passed by lawmakers and the way they were crafted. The group, currently led by Albany County District Attorney David Soares, had cautioned the Legislature against approving the changes without more input from stakeholders.

Soares argued that while many pretrial services agencies around the state could struggle to handle the increase in clients, some will not—particularly those represented by Democrats who negotiated the new legislation.

“Here you have the vast majority of elected leadership from New York City. They already have a well-funded pretrial service system,” Soares said. “But here they are making decisions for the rest of the state without any thoughtful consideration as to the economic infrastructure, or the infrastructure of other counties throughout the state. That then makes me wonder whether they truly want to see bail reform succeed.”

Until earlier this week, it was unclear whether Cuomo and lawmakers would set aside additional funds for pretrial services agencies as part of bail reform. Cuomo had said at a press conference last month that they were planning to include additional funding, but the final deal did not.

Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, who was involved in discussions on bail reform, confirmed earlier this week in a radio interview that the budget didn’t include any extra funding for pretrial services, but that conversations among lawmakers on the issue are ongoing.

“There has been no additional resources actually leveraged so far to consider what the changes would be. But we’re still taking a look at that,” Walker said. “But considering the savings that many of the locales and the state will have with respect to not having to pay to keep people behind bars, we believe that those services will be able to be covered.”

Walker also pointed out that those changes, which will amend the state’s laws on bail, criminal discovery and speedy trial, won’t take effect until next January. That will give lawmakers—and state agencies—time to evaluate how much funding, if any, they should set aside for pretrial services as those changes are implemented.


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