RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — There has been an unintended consequence as New York State no longer allows bail in most non-violent and misdemeanor crimes.
Jails are emptier as defendants are set free while awaiting trial, but one sheriff says some of those arrested are not getting much-needed help.
You don’t expect rave reviews of jail, but then you wouldn’t expect therapy either behind bars.
They’ve been charged with grand larceny, burglary and assault, but they’re also often victims of abuse, addiction, sex trafficking and mental illness. Where would they be if not in jail?
“Dead,” one inmate said.
“I would still be out there, so it’s like a blessing in disguise,” another inmate said.
Sometimes jail is the best treatment, says Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon. It’s not just punishment; it’s detox, substance abuse counseling and job training.
Toulon says bail reform is blocking therapeutic programs from reaching those most likely to change. Eighty percent of offenders at the Suffolk County Jail have addiction issues or mental illness.
“Individuals in that category are missing out on potential services that could assist them. If they’re not in jail, they’re not going to seek those types of resources while they’re out in our community. What they’re going to do is possibly re-offend,” Toulon said.
It’s an unintended downside to a well-meaning law. Albany, he says, didn’t consider that jail can make communities the inmates return to safer.
“They’ll tell us that jail has saved their lives. It’s their chance to come clean, withdraw from the drugs, get the mental health and medical services they need,” said Sgt. Erin Meunkle, a Suffolk County corrections officer.
Before bail reform, the Suffolk County Jail housed 1,000 inmates. Since November, that number has dropped by 300 with some tiers completely empty.
Across the state, where are those defendants?
Maria Campione was arrested and released without having to post bail four times in seven days. Her mother is calling it a cry for help.
“She’s not the only one in this situation. These are all these mentally ill kids and there’s no help for them,” she said.
Social services experts say bail reform ignored real-life implications.
“Jail is never the optimal place to deal with a mental health disorder or addiction, but it’s certainly better than trying to deal with it on your own on the street,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, with the Family and Children’s Association.
“We have hospitals for people who need treatment, not jails,” defense attorney Bruce Barket said.
Barket says you can’t incarcerate people just to get them help.
“The idea that the only place an individual who is in need of psychiatric care or drug treatment is incarcerated is just, forgive me, nuts,” he said.
But ask 19-year-old inmate Ines Reyes, who was doing drugs and committing robbery on the outside. Inside, he got a high school diploma and learned job skills.
“I’ve been here 28 months and like, for the first time in my life, I feel so healthy. I don’t think even about drugs,” he said. “You got people that’s trying to help you. Everything works out. There’s a lot of people that don’t got help out there.”
Young offenders awaiting trial are taking fathering courses and anger management.
“Some of these programs that you don’t really receive on the outside. You wouldn’t know where to find the program,” 22-year-old inmate Wayne Beavers said.
“Sometimes individuals need a time-out to get safe, get stable, get sober,” said Stephanie Frisz-Gioia, with the Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island.
“How can someone who is homeless, mental issues, substance abuse, be better off returning to back into our community than being here, where at least they are secure, they’re being observed, they’re getting treatment,” Toulon said.
Toulon says give judges discretion to require bail for those likely to commit more crimes and seek no help on the outside.
Outside of New York City, Suffolk County’s jail population is the highest in New York State.