Erie County legislators back bail reform

Erie County lawmakers became the first county legislature in New York State to take a legislative position in support of reforms to the bail system, following a unanimous vote Thursday. 

Reform efforts in the state Legislature failed earlier this year and advocates are expected to press the issue in the coming session that begins in January.

“Resolutions like this are essential to demonstrate to Albany that a world of people are behind good governance and good governance means bail reform,” said John Curr III, western region director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“This shows the will of Erie County, and tells Albany and the governor, of course, that they are right to consider [bail reform], and they are right to make this a priority,” he added.

Bail is intended to motivate defendants to appear in court, but critics say that cash bail in particular punishes defendants who don’t have the financial means to pay for their freedom.

April Baskin, majority leader of the county legislature, sponsored the resolution and said she hopes state lawmakers will follow the lead of Erie County to pass bail reform and “get it done.” The county’s resolution was more than ten months in the making. 

“We stand behind taxpayers dollars not being wasted; we stand behind people who live in poverty,” she told Investigative Post, referring to the way cash bail negatively impacts poor defendants.

The resolution indicates the legislature’s support for “substantial” bail reform for people charged with non-violent misdemeanors without a history of failing to show up in court. It expresses support for the “intention behind” the “Bail Elimination Act of 2018”—a state bill that would eliminate the use of cash bail, among other reforms. The resolution also calls on the state to provide counties with funding to undertake reforms.

The resolution specifically refers to non-violent defendants, and Baskin cited trespassing and driver’s license offenses as examples of the types of crimes bail reform should address.

In her remarks, Baskin referenced the financial benefits of bail reform, saying “taxpayers [will not] be burdened with housing low level offenders who are no risk to the community.”