Onondaga County lawmakers are resurrecting a program that helps people who need to be bailed out of jail after committing minor crimes. Lawmakers agreed to put $25,000 in the recently passed 2014 budget, to run the Jail Ministry Bail Expediter Program.
Legislator Linda Ervin says constituents have been asking for a return of the program ever since it was disbanded, because of concerns that funds were being misused. She says it puts people without means on the same footing as those with ready cash who can bail out loved ones in the case of a minor crime, like shoplifting.
"Say you're a grandmother raising your grandchildren, and your grandson goes out and picks up something they shouldn't pick up," Ervin said. "They take him downtown, and they're going to keep him there until he goes to court, unless you can get him out on bail. And say he's missing his job because he's in jail. And it's certainly a crime, but let's move through the process the way everybody else moves through the process. But the grandmother can't help him do that. So Jail Ministry will come in and try to help that out."
Ervin says in some instances, people are spending time in jail for minor offenses, because they can't afford to pay.
"We all have family members who do something silly," Ervin said. "And whereas you may be able to go in your pocket and pay, many people can't go in their pocket and pay. Many bail bondsmen don't deal with this situation, so you've got to have some money. And that's what this is all about."
Ervin says the legislature will be able to oversee the program, because the money is in a contingent account in the probation department, which will also help keep track of the revolving fund. Along with offering people without means the same chance to make bail as people with means, Ervin says it helps keep the jail population down, at a time when overcrowding is a problem.