The new cashless bail system will be going into effect in New York state in just a few months, but in Erie County, the practice was adopted a year and half ago.
"I told my ADAs, ‘Don’t ask for bail on misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies unless there's a good reason,’" said Erie County District Attorney John Flynn. "A good reason being the individual never comes to court. In a domestic violence case, those were cases that I looked at very carefully.”
Since that mandate, Flynn says he's seen a nearly 50 percent drop in Erie County Holding Center inmates.
"A lot of time the individual can't afford to post bail so, the individual (he or she) will now sit in jail pending their trial," added Flynn.
That will change starting in January: an offender of a nonviolent offense will be issued a ticket by the courts and scheduled to return to court for a hearing.
"Conceptually I'm OK with that, but it no longer gives me the mechanism to ask for bail for that very good reason," said Flynn.
Judge Mark Saltarelli presides in the city of Tonawanda and is the New York state City Court Association president.
"If we release a defendant that we believe should not be released and they go and do something, the first person that gets blamed is the judge," said Salterelli.
Saltarelli says the hands of judges are now tied as a result of the legislation.
"I'm against anything that takes away the discretion of a judge to make their decisions," added Salterelli.
The judge says he foresees a strain on agencies like the parole and police department, who will have to pick up offenders who may be no-shows to court.
"The probation department is understaffed," he stressed.
Saltarelli says court staff will also feel the pinch.
"It's up to the court system to notify these individuals," he added.
The DA says the Office of Court Administration is developing new protocols for those notifications.
"The better job we do on that then the better job we're going to do on making sure people come to court eliminating the wasted resources and having law enforcement go out and find them," said Flynn.
Flynn says the agency has also created a Bail Reform Task Force to tackle the issues that have come up with the new legislation.
"The probation department is aware that their probation officers will have to get more involved more," said Flynn.
The task force has met twice so far in Erie County and will meet again before the justice reform goes into effect in January.
Saltarelli says there are other concerns the courts now have to consider, including the law's impact on court programs.
"It also hampers our drug court," said Salterelli. "I had to rewrite our contract for drug court to include that the defendants consent to bail being placed if they have relapsed and I feel that they need to be sanctioned. Once bail is placed, they're not allowed to bail out or they're removed from the drug court program."