Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has signed legislation creating an office to help victims and witnesses of violent crimes as the state eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes Jan. 1.
The county Office of Crime Victim Advocate will provide legal assistance to victims and witnesses as new statewide criminal justice changes take effect, officials said.
Under the state law, anyone currently held on bail in a local jail will be eligible for release come Jan. 1 if that person is charged with a crime that wouldn’t be subject to bail under the new law.
More than 3,000 people statewide will be eligible for release, including about 400 on Long Island.
Prosecutors also will have to turn over discovery information to defendants within 15 days after an arraignment, with another 30 days allowed in some cases.
Supporters say the initiatives will ensure that defendants' ability to pay no longer will determine whether they remain in jail while awaiting a court date.
But many law enforcement officials and Republican lawmakers across the state say the changes will jeopardize public safety by putting more accused criminals on the street.
“We have taken great measures to protect anyone who may be affected by these new reforms, ensuring no one in Nassau will be left vulnerable at the County level,” Curran said in a statement Tuesday.
The county Legislature voted last month to create the victims office, which will have an $890,000 annual budget and an executive director appointed by Nassau lawmakers.
The office was created in a Republican-led effort to “mitigate the effects” of the new state criminal justice changes, Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello said.
“Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the financial burdens and public safety challenges imposed on our residents that the so-called ‘reforms’ will bring,” Nicolello said in a statement.
The advocate office will provide legal assistance to victims when they need to file victim compensation applications or when defendants seek access to their homes or businesses to inspect crime scenes.
“We will continue this effort as it is extremely important to have their cooperation and that they individually feel their rights are protected as we move forward in court proceedings,” Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in a statement, referring to victim and witness cooperation.