Jail populations drop under bail reform, but will taxpayers save money?

Updated: Jan. 6, 2020 at 4:00 PM EST
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CANTON, N.Y. (WWNY) - It looks like county jail populations are already dropping due to bail reform. But will that mean savings for taxpayers?

Bail reform is already slashing inmate populations behind doors at some county jails. But state mandates and a year-long reality check means taxpayer savings may be few.

“The state commission has stated it will be about a year. They want to see a blueprint of the population to see if there's any ups or downs, increases or decreases -- and then they'll make a decision on your mandated staffing,” said St. Lawrence County Sheriff Brooks Bigwarfe.

A week into the new year, St. Lawrence County's inmate population is down 38 percent. In Lewis County, it's 42 percent. In Jefferson, 13 percent. Jails are keeping an eye out to see if costs drop as well.

“Absolutely, we'll monitor the budget as far as the food and the medical costs of inmates and see if there's a decrease and act accordingly on our budget,” said Bigwarfe.

Jail costs are a big part of county budgets. It costs nearly $200 in Jefferson County to hold a person in jail just one day. But the savings don't translate directly.

“A lot of that cost is built in cost, overhead cost. And a lot of that is not going to change," said Scott Gray, Jefferson County Board of Legislators chairman. "It's just a portion of that $190 you're going to be saving.”

Gray agreed with Bigwarfe in that it will be at least a year before anything is known about cutting staffing costs.

Changes could still come to bail reform. Opponents of the law in the state legislature have put together a list of people accused of notorious crimes – and let go. They say they'll fight to reform, bail reform.

“There is a lot yet to be seen in this bail reform situation,” said Gray.

State Senate Deputy Minority Leader Joseph Griffo has issued a call to allow judges to require bail based on a person’s criminal history. Recently, the majority leader of the Senate surprised observers by saying she will now consider changes to the law.

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