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Rochester clergy urge state leaders to uphold bail reform 

Clergy from several Rochester-area churches are urging state leaders to resist mounting pressure from law enforcement and constituents to repeal or modify the new bail reform law that took effect this month.

In a joint letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Leticia James, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and others, seven members of the clergy encouraged the elected officials to support the law despite claims from opponents that the measure is leaving dangerous criminals on the street.
click to enlarge The Rev. James Simmons, right, and the Rev. Wanda Wilson, left, were among the speakers at a press conference today urging City Council  not to amend its Police Accountability Board legislation to allow former law enforcement officers to serve on the body. - PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • PHOTO BY JEREMY MOULE
  • The Rev. James Simmons, right, and the Rev. Wanda Wilson, left, were among the speakers at a press conference today urging City Council not to amend its Police Accountability Board legislation to allow former law enforcement officers to serve on the body.
The new law ended cash bail for low-level offenses and some felonies considered under the penal code to be “non-violent.” But there have been several instances in communities across the state in which repeat offenders, including some with a history of violence, have been released from custody as they await their court date.

The law was intended to reduce the number of pretrial prisoners in the state’s jail system. Supporters argued that bail system disproportionately affected low-income people of color, who might be less able than wealthier suspects to meet bail and remain free until their trial.

“We urge you to stand strong in the face of fear-mongering and misinformation campaigns,” the clergy wrote.

“Thanks to the new bail law, fewer people will be forced to sit in jail because they’re too poor to pay for their freedom,” the letter went on later. “Fewer families and communities will be broken apart. And we can finally begin to address the painful legacy that mass incarceration has had on black and brown communities in our Monroe County area.”

James has said the law should be amended to allow judges to exercise discretion for repeat offenders and for those whom the court considers dangerous if set free.

The letter, dated January 14, concluded that the moment called for “moral leadership.”

The letter was signed by the Rev. Lane Campbell; the Rev. Shari Halliday-Quan; the Rev. Robert Hoggard; the Rev. Deni W. Mack; the Rev. James Simmons; the Rev. Marlowe Washington, and the Rev. Robert Thomas Werth.

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.

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