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Republicans say NY bail reform reduces access to rehabilitation programs. Experts say it's not that simple.

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VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — New York’s bail reform law has been controversial since it was implemented in 2019. Ahead of next year’s legislative session, some Southern Tier Republicans now claim the law limits access to drug rehabilitation programs. 

If you’re not familiar with New York’s bail reform law, here’s a quick refresher. People who are accused of certain non-violent crimes cannot be held on bail. Proponents said the ability to afford bail shouldn’t be a factor in determining jail time. 

Bail reform has also earned some criticism since it was introduced. There are critics on both sides of the aisle, though most are Republicans.

State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt spoke in Binghamton earlier this month alongside several prominent Southern Tier Republican leaders.

Binghamton Mayor Rich David said that if defendants are not held on bail, there isn’t enough opportunity for them to access services like addiction counseling.

"This is just another way that these so-called reforms have hurt our most vulnerable New Yorkers, including those who are suffering from addiction," David said.

State Sen. Fred Akshar said the law has placed too many restrictions on judges and law enforcement. 

"We just need to allow judges to judge people," Akshar said. "For criminy sakes, it’s in their job title, judge people. So let them judge who should go to a correctional facility or who should go to a drug treatment center."

Cornell University* law professor Joe Margulies said it’s important to point out that judges can still send someone to a drug treatment center before their trial, whether bail is involved or not. 

"[Addiction counseling] is separate from bail. It can be a condition of [defendants'] release that they go to treatment," Margulies said.

Margulies said even if defendants are held on bail, there’s often not enough time for that person to access treatment anyway.

"It's not like we keep them there in order to give them treatment," Margulies said. "We keep them there as long as it takes to process their case."

Margulies said that one of the reasons why judges and law enforcement can't send defendants to substance abuse treatment programs is because of a lack of capacity.

Treatment centerslike the one at UHS* in Broome County, are busier than ever, according to a statement from the hospital.

Ortt, Akshar and David echoed those concerns about the lack of capacity in alternative pre-trial programs and criticized the state's decision to close the Willard Drug Treatment Facility, which was operated by the State Department of Corrections.

Even after a revision in 2020, the bail reform law does not allocate any additional funds for treatment centers and similar programs, which has been a bipartisan critique of the law.

Some experts have said the oversight has placed a strain on existing programs, given the elevated number of people released before trial.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has said she is open to additional amendments to bail reform, so it is likely the law will come up once again when the state Legislature convenes in January. 

* Cornell University and UHS are both WSKG underwriters.

Additional reporting by Vaughn Golden.