BATH | Steuben County Sheriff Jim Allard recently told county legislators the state’s upcoming bail reform measures are creating major uncertainties for the county jail in terms of staffing, as well as issues surrounding how to deal with -- and support -- those released under the new law.

The new law effectively eliminates cash bail in the state. Suspects arrested on misdemeanor or non-violent felony charges are required to be released -- without bail -- until a trial or other conclusion to the case. Low-level misdemeanor charges will be handled with an appearance ticket rather than a wait in jail for arraignment.

It was part of a package of criminal justice changes passed by the new Democratic majorities in the state Legislature. Proponents have said it eliminates the economic gap between defendants who can afford to pay for bail and those who can’t.

The new rules take effect Jan. 1.

Allard told county leaders the result is likely to be a reduction in the county jail population of more than a third.

He said the average daily jail population right now is 155-165 -- he expects it to be about 100 next year under the new law.

That will begin, he told legislators, with approximately 70-80 inmates likely to be released immediately Jan. 1 as the county will no longer be allowed to hold them.

Allard also noted that the change could create more strain on the court system.

He said often in misdemeanor cases a defendant would be held for around 30 days awaiting a hearing and then be sentenced to time served.

Since there will be no ‘time served’ in advance of those hearings, defendants may be more likely to go to trial, and to spend more time in jail than they would have under the current system.

Legislator Kelly Fitzpatrick of Bath asked about what will happen to those who are released.

Allard said a team has already been set up to review each inmate and determine what will be needed in terms of community support. The team consists of representatives from the Department of Social Services, Mental Health office, Catholic Charities and CASA-Trinity (for addiction treatment).

With the reduced jail population, Allard said some housing units within the jail are expected to be closed or already have been. But he stressed he doesn’t believe that will result in layoffs.

Some corrections positions can be eliminated through attrition, as discussed in September in connection with a new contract for health care services at the jail.

There are also multiple compatible positions corrections officers can be reassigned to, Allard said, including becoming deputies by going through the civil service testing process.

Still, he said, the level of staffing that will be necessary remains a big question mark going into 2020.

Brenda Aston, Chief Conflict Defender for the county, told legislators the calculation isn’t simple partly because it can’t be assumed defense attorneys will always want clients released when the law allows for it. She said she has more than 100 cases each year where, because there are outstanding parole or probation issues in connection with the defendant, she would prefer those clients stay in lockup.

Allard also told the legislators that state law will no longer allow inmates to be kept in segregated housing (23 hours in cell, one hour outside) for discipline violations such as fights.

He said new rules require four hours outside even for prisoners under disciplinary penalties, and the requirements on what qualifies for segregated housing are so stringent that the unit at Steuben’s jail is currently empty.

Allard said those considered a consistent danger to others can still be segregated.