BUFFALO, N.Y. — The conversation over whether New York should rescind some of the criminal justice reforms it made in 2019 has become in large part a political and partisan one between Republicans and Democrats.
In contrast, Save the Michaels of the World founder Avi Israel has spent a large part of his adult life avoiding politics, with his focus simply on helping people suffering from addiction.
"I'm not approaching this issue from any political point of view," Israel said. "I'm approaching this issue as a father who has lost a child who cannot get treatment."
He said he has no interest in seeing anybody go to jail and believes some reform was necessary, but since New York eliminated bail for most nonviolent crimes in 2019, the court system lost a tool to get people in addiction treatment programs.
"We have people who are addicted or suffering from mental health issues and instead of us offering them access to treatment, we allow them to keep going on committing crimes and be sent back out to the street," Israel said.
Prior to the bail reform, judges or prosecutors could offer people who committed crimes mandated treatment as an alternative to incarceration. State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt believes restoring some judicial discretion could help curb soaring overdose death rates that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The bail reform and the changes that have been made absolutely have removed a tool to save lives and have contributed, I believe, to the number of deaths," Ortt said.
State Republicans have staunchly opposed many of the social justice reforms enacted by Democrats, arguing it’s made communities less safe. But Ortt said voices like Israel's illustrate it is a more nuanced and less partisan issue than some people may believe.
"That's his only focus, is to save people suffering from addiction and he's telling you, and a lot of other people in this space will tell you, this law has made it harder to do that," Ortt said.
He said he believes making any changes to the current laws will be difficult because many Democrats in the state Legislature believe it has been effective in helping disenfranchised populations. But he said he will continue to actively push lawmakers and voters to consider unintended consequences.