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Push to fix flaws in criminal justice system

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Like many other north country law enforcement officials, Massena Police Chief Timmy Currier is frustrated by a criminal justice system that allows people charged with serious crimes to be released on meager bail while awaiting trial.

But unlike his counterparts, Mr. Currier has gone public with his frustration.

In a letter titled “Enough is enough,” submitted to the Daily Courier-Observer newspaper, Mr. Currier suggested it is time for St. Lawrence County leaders to determine what can be done to keep habitual offenders off the streets while awaiting trial.

It is a commendable goal during a time when more big-city drug dealers are coming to the north country because demand for their product is high and competition for their services is low — at least compared to the cities from which they come.

More felons are setting up shop here from afar. More felons are getting caught here. It has to be frustrating for a police agency that does the catching to see its suspect released on bail and given the chance to break the law again while awaiting trial.

Case in point is Patrick R. Lloyd, who Mr. Currier said is a New York City man who has been living in Massena for about two years. Mr. Lloyd was released on $6,500 bail after a hearing on charges of felony counts of first-degree unlawful imprisonment. Mr. Currier said the man has been charged 25 times, with 18 cases still pending, and 10 of those are felony charges. The chief thinks the real crime is that with a rap sheet this long, Mr. Lloyd is still a free man.

Mr. Lloyd’s case is a fine illustration of how the problem is not exclusive to a particular jurisdiction. All of the previous charges against Mr. Lloyd were for crimes allegedly committed elsewhere. He was released on bail several times from other courts in different counties.

Ironically, the thing Mr. Lloyd has going for him — and what police agencies don’t — is the law. Our criminal justice system does not allow for bail to be punishment for a crime not yet proven against the suspect. Innocent until proven guilty has been the American standard — upheld by the courts — for more than a century. Bail is primarily meant to provide security that the suspect will return for trial.

Provisions in the law have been added that allow prosecutors to argue successfully that bail should be increased because a suspect with several previous charges can be considered a flight risk. But the number of cases, lack of funding and staffing in prosecutors’ offices limit how often such time and effort can be put into making this happen. That is especially true in a jurisdiction as large as and with as many courts as there are in St. Lawrence County.

We think it commendable that Mr. Currier bring up the issue. We are somewhat disappointed with his approach to making it public. His letter makes no attempt to suggest solutions. He doesn’t create a platform that could lead to debating the various issues he cites that need to be addressed. We think he should have done more to start the discussion he believes is needed.

He instead asks questions such as, “Are we failing to prosecute these case properly or timely?” Or, “Are judges failing to put repeat and violent offenders in jail?” Or, “Is probation or parole not working?” It would be more effective to get the dialogue going by saying what he views is causing what is wrong with the system. A question as to whether something might be causing a problem does not help establish how a problem could be fixed.

Mr. Currier makes too strong an effort not to offend anyone in his pleas for open dialogue about problems within the criminal justice system. He says he is not pointing fingers at any agency or department. Maybe it is time to start.

If the problem is the system of parole and probation is not working, let’s say so and get the discussion started toward fixing it. Same goes for the other questions he puts forth in the letter. If law enforcement is not providing quality cases to be prosecuted, let’s say so and discuss solutions. If judges are failing to put repeat and violent offenders in jail, put that on the table and let’s figure out how to change things.

Mr. Currier has identified significant truths: That the same names are showing up repeatedly in police blotters across the north country; that resources are being expended to arrest people but those defendants end up suffering little consequence for their alleged actions; that there are problems with the criminal justice system, and that it’s time to start identifying the possible causes of these problems and taking real steps to fix them.

We agree with Mr. Currier. Enough is enough.

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