Hundreds of inmates in jails across the state will soon be leaving.
It's part of the criminal justice reforms that go into place January 1 in New York, which will no longer allow these people to be held on bail.
But some inmates might be released before the New Year.
It comes down to logistics.
State lawmakers ultimately decided they didn’t want people sitting in jail just because they couldn’t afford bail.
So, back in April, they changed the law.
Starting January 1, 2020, judges will not be able to hold anyone arrested for a misdemeanor, or even some of those charged with felonies, on cash bail.
However, that also goes for current inmates as well.
So what does that all mean?
Anyone who is currently in jail and has not been convicted yet will have to see a judge to be released on or before January 1.
"The judge will have to go in and ‘ROR’ them, release them on their own recognizance," said Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour.
At that time, their conditions of bail will be reset.
Voutour said he can’t open the doors and let inmates go before that.
"I have to get paperwork from a judge. So they will have to see a judge. I would guess that there could be 75 to 100 that could possibly get released when this law goes into effect,” he said.
It takes time to process people out.
That’s why Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said his office, along with the court system, has a plan to identify and process out inmates ahead of schedule throughout November and December
"We are going to systematically, across the county, in every town court, village court, city court, going to release those individuals progressively before January 1," he said.
The courts and district attorney’s office are responsible to contact defendants and make sure they come back to their next court date. Over the past few months, Flynn said he had his assistant district attorneys not ask for bail unless for a significant reason.
"The numbers are working,” he said. “Back in May of 2018, there were over 1,000 inmates awaiting trial. I run the numbers every month. This month, on November 1, it was 590. We have decreased the number of individuals who are in the holding center, awaiting trial, by almost 50 percent in a year.”
In his eyes, Voutour said bail reform was necessary, but feels it was taken to an extreme.
"We made a drug arrest and charged a defendant with two class B felonies — punishable by 25 years each,” he said. “Took him before a judge and he was released back in the streets to sell drugs the next day.”
Though jail population might go down for a while, Sheriff Voutour doesn’t have the answer if numbers will stay that way.
“If they're in for 20 days before they are convicted and they get sentenced to 20 days, they get time served,” he said. “What's going to happen is now that they don't go in on bail, there's no time accumulated. So now if they get sentenced to 20 days, now they have to come and serve those 20 days.”
When current inmates see a judge and are able to leave, they are issued a court appearance ticket.
Voutour, who will retire at the end of the year, said if these defendants fail to show up to court in 48 hours, a judge issues a bench warrant.
That will also increase warrants, law enforcement manpower, and more arrests, which could increase jail population.