How is coronavirus impacting the Onondaga County justice system?

Coronavirus

ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Despite COVID-19 infecting jails across the country, not a single deputy or inmate in Onondaga County has been infected so far. 

District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick said that’s because most people are being released to reduce the potential spread of the virus. This after Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered more than 1,000 lower-level parolees be released.

So how full are the jails right now? Fitzpatrick couldn’t give an exact statistic, but he estimates the justice center in Downtown Syracuse is likely only 30 to 40 percent full. That’s because the district attorney and the sheriff have released people who are a high health risk if they do get COVID-19.

Those people who would be in jail right now are roaming free, but they are not violent offenders and are not believed to be a major risk to the community.

The people who are still incarcerated are violent offenders accused of crimes like murder, rape, and child molestation. Those people are waiting for their trials, which are not happening during the pandemic. Right now, there are mainly only arraignments, which are being done virtually with a judge in the courthouse and defendants joining them in a video conference. 

“A lot of the justice system changed January 1st and now has changed April 1st as well. Two different tracks, two different reasons. But what it’s eventually going to lead to is smarter prosecution, taking more advantage of alternatives to incarceration, getting the nonviolent offenders into treatment more so than we do now and reserving jail and prison for the truly incorrigible,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said the people waiting in the justice center for their trial will likely be waiting until the summer for their day in court. He said within the next couple of weeks, judges will start to have pre-trails done remotely, which is where the defendants will get their sentencing offer from the prosecution. But they can’t start those jury trials until social distancing rules are lifted. 

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