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County releases 29 as bail law takes effect

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The Nassau County Sherriff’s Department released a total of 29 prisoners from detention at the Nassau County Correction Center as the state’s new bail laws came into effect on Jan. 1. The release is the latest in a series that began two months ago.

Of the 29, four completed their sentences, and four others were being transferred for medical evaluation, according to figures provided by Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.

The center began releasing inmates under the terms of the new statute on Nov. 1, when the facility’s population was about 840 inmates, according to Lt. Brian Sullivan, president of the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association that represents the officers at the facility.

“We didn’t want a mass exodus on Jan. 1,” Sullivan said. Not counting the 29, Sullivan said the county had released 275 inmates in the previous two months. He estimated that roughly 75 were part of the normal intake-release cycle of the center; but the remaining 200 were released as a result of the new measures.

“Since November 1, we have seen a steady decline in admissions to the facility while discharges have remained relatively constant, so the overall population has declined,” Sherriff’s Capt. Michael Golio wrote in an email. “Thus, our total facility population has been reduced by more than 260 inmates as of today, since we started our projections. The reduced admissions over the last two months in conjunction with the recent releases result in a final facility population in the low 800s,” he wrote.

The Jan. 1 reforms have eliminated cash bail for about 90 percent of all nonviolent misdemeanors and felonies, as New York became the latest state to enact significant bail reforms. Many law enforcement and local government officials questioned the reforms, saying they believed the extent of the reforms endangered local communities and that lawmakers should have taken more time in considering their implications.

For Long Beach Police Department Lt. Richard DePalma, who has been with the department for more than 17 years, the reforms were enacted too quickly, and he believed more law enforcement agencies should have been involved in the process. 

“Whoever wrote this didn’t involve enough people and didn’t think of the ripple effects,” DePalma said. “I think more people need to be at the table and having this conversation.”

“My No. 1 focus is keeping protecting our residents while enforcing the law,” Curran said. “I want to make sure all residents know that all Nassau County agencies have been extremely diligent in preparing for the successful and smooth transition to the new bail reform laws, with the safety of our residents and our law enforcement as the guidepost.”

Sullivan cited a number of cases where defendants were charged with crimes that should have excluded them from consideration for release under the new law’s provisions, including aggravated assault and certain classes of sex crimes.

“The law was supposed to address those cases where people just didn’t have the money for bail because of economic reasons.” But he cited a case that involved aggravated assault on an 11-year-old child. The defendant was released on his own recognizance, Sullivan said.

Sullivan did not anticipate any substantial savings in the center’s roughly $155 million annual budget because of the new law. “You still need officers, and you still need the building,” he said. “You need all the services for the people that are still here.”

Sullivan said that the current average ratio was about four officers to 104 inmates, all other things being equal. “Sometimes, you have one officer to one inmate, like with suicide watch,” he said. Inmates with psychiatric issues also required closer supervision. Nevertheless, staffing issues remain a concern.  “We’ve taken on about 100 new officers in the past year,” he said, “but we’re still understaffed.

The Association is currently in negotiations with the county for a new contract and Sullivan is hopeful that his union will reach an agreement with the county, now that NCPD detectives have voted to accept a new 8.5-year contract.