Ulster County Criminal Justice Reform Task Force presents its recommendations to the Legislature

Posted August 18, 2021

Pictured left to right: Legislator Eve Walter, chair, UC-CJRTF with task members Nina Dawson, director, Ulster County Youth Board; Elizabeth Lee, New Paltz resident; and Chief Robert Lucchesi, New Paltz Police Department. 


KINGSTON, NY—Legislator Eve Walter, chair of the Ulster County Legislature Criminal Justice Reform Task Force (UC-CJRTF), and task force members presented their recommendations at the August 17 Legislative Session.  

“I originally convened the UC-CJRTF in October 2019 to examine the long-term impacts of recent bail and discovery reform,” Chairman Donaldson said. “I thank Legislator Walter for her visionary leadership as chair of the UC-CJRTF. I also thank task force members for their tremendous dedication, diligence, and hard work over the past year and a half to envision a safer and more just Ulster County.” 

Chairman Donaldson adds, “The perfect storm of the COVID pandemic and George Floyd’s murder forced all of us to question how our criminal justice system can better protect our most vulnerable populations and to examine how to identify, prevent, and respond to discrimination. I applaud the thoughtful, integrated solutions put forward by the task force which simultaneously strengthens law enforcement, improves community policing, and protects the public.” 

Legislator Walter states, “The UC-CJRTF Report offers a holistic approach to expand criminal justice reforms in Ulster County. It seeks to balance the rights of the accused with the rights of victims, support law enforcement’s capacity to work with people in crisis, reduce the revolving door of criminality, and identify and prevent discrimination in the county’s criminal justice system.” 

“I was so impressed by the diversity and engagement of all members—we certainly do not agree on everything but found compromises that allow us, as a county, to move forward. These are not solutions we are suggesting, but rather, pathways toward solutions. The work must continue,” said Legislator Walter. 


Key initiatives 

  • Mandate Restorative Justice training for all Ulster County employees with direct contact with the accused and/or victims of crime 
  • Create and fund a 24-hour crisis stabilization center and 7–10-day respite recovery homes, with a minimum of 8 beds 
  • Establish a Professional Standards Division to independently investigate allegations of officer misconduct in the Office of the Sheriff, and to oversee Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) training 
  • Hire a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) manager to develop and grow CIT training infrastructure countywide 
  • Develop and staff a referral hotline for criminal justice discrimination concerns through the Human Rights Commission 
  • Initiate a countywide Law Enforcement Community Advisory Board, formed from the membership of each municipal police reform task force, with the mission to support the implementation of police reform measures across the county 
  • Implement an RFP for proposals to provide re-entry services to Ulster County Jail inmates 
  • Create and implement a Centralized Arraignment system for Ulster County 


RESTORATIVE JUSTICE—Balancing the rights of the accused with the rights of victims 

“I commend the UC-CJRTF and the Legislature for their leadership to ensure that all county employees with direct contact with the accused and victims of crime are trained in basic restorative justice practices,” said District Attorney Dave Clegg. “Restorative Ulster will be most effective and have the greatest impact when all stakeholders in the County's criminal justice system understand the benefits of restorative justice conferencing and the ways in which it can result in repairing the harm to victims and at the same time help rehabilitate the offender.” 


CRISIS RESPONSE—Supporting Law Enforcement’s Capacity to work with people in crisis 

“The task force recommendation to establish both a 24/7 crisis stabilization center, and short-term crisis respite beds (as alternatives to mental health inpatient stays), would help Ulster County to prevent avoidable hospital utilization and criminal justice involvement for residents living with under-addressed mental health or addiction issues, said Joshua Gran, chief strategy development officer, People USA. 

"Ulster County has an extraordinary opportunity to create a culture of treatment, healing, and connection instead of incarceration and punishment for people experiencing mental health or substance use crises," adds David McNamara, executive director, Samadhi. 

Mr. Gran explains, “A crisis stabilization center is a place where people in distress can walk in, or be dropped off by law enforcement on crisis intervention calls, and immediately receive high-quality, integrated care that is welcoming, trauma-informed, and recovery-focused. It should be a gateway to our preventative care system, connecting people to the longer-term services they need to thrive.”  

Mr. McNamara adds, “This new and evolved version of the crisis stabilization center will be a gateway into our preventative care system and a way to connect people with their community and to the long-term services that they need." 



The public entrusts law enforcement to demonstrate high ethical standards which are consistent with the laws they have sworn to uphold. Professionalism in law enforcement requires establishing minimum standards of ethical codes conduct, vigorous investigations into breaches of these codes, and defined rules for internal discipline to ensure compliance.​ 

"One of the most significant outcomes from the UC-CJRTF is the recommendation to create and fund a Professional Standards Unit in the Sheriff's Office. The recommendation includes establishing a Professional Standards supervisor position and a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) manager position," said Ulster County Sheriff Juan Figueroa. 

Sheriff Figueroa explains, "The Professional Standards Division would independently investigate allegations of officer misconduct in the Sheriff's Office." The Sheriff adds, "The Professional Standards supervisor would be a civilian with no affiliation with law enforcement unions and will be highly trained to conduct internal investigations. The supervisor will be responsible for annual division audits, inspections, and quality assurance.” 

The further professionalism of law enforcement requires comprehensive and continuous education of its members, specifically around the type of crisis events that have historically resulted in breaches of these codes of conduct among law enforcement. 

The UC-CJRTF recommends that the county expand Crisis Intervention Training to 50% of the Sheriff's Office personnel and 25% of all local police departments in Ulster County. 

 Lieutenant Joseph Sciutto adds, "CIT training equips responding officers with the skills, knowledge, and community connections they need to engage safely and effectively with people in crisis and link people in need to the best local services, supports, and resources. The program would divert people from the criminal justice system whenever appropriate and improve the overall safety of police interactions with individuals in crisis." 

"The CIT manager would develop and grow local CIT training infrastructure countywide and work with county and municipal enforcement agencies to review, revise, and conform local law enforcement crisis response policies and procedures. They would also oversee CIT and Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) training programs and accreditations throughout the county," said Lieutenant Sciutto.


RESPONDING TO DISCRIMINATION—Identify & prevent discrimination in the County Criminal Justice System 

"The task force recommendation to establish and staff a countywide referral hotline for criminal justice discrimination concerns through the Human Rights Commission is a positive step forward," said Commissioner Tyrone Wilson. "We identified a real need for the county to provide assistance to people who feel that they have been discriminated by any individual who works in the county criminal justice system. This includes law enforcement officers, attorneys, clerks, and judges."  

Commissioner Wilson adds, "Every branch of our justice system has its own unique oversight body and complaint process. We can help educate and connect people to the proper channels and assist them in filing discrimination complaints effectively." 

"The UC-CJRTF is moving in the right direction by recommending the creation of a countywide Law Enforcement Community Advisory Board. This Board can continue to expand the welcoming and open community engagement process used to develop the recommendations offered in this report, said Dr. Edgar Rodriguez, New Paltz Coalition for Community Safety and Wellbeing. 

Dr. Rodriguez adds, "The experience of including and encouraging the active participation of any interested community member to engage with the Task Force was powerful and affirming and can be used as a model for future countywide community engagement in police reform and community safety."  


RE-INTEGRATION—Reduce the revolving door of criminality

The UC-CJRTF strongly supports implementing an RFP for proposal to provide re-entry services to Ulster County Jail inmates. 

In New York State, the recidivism rate among people released from corrections and community supervision is approximately 43%. In stark contrast, the Family of Woodstock reports a re-entry recidivism rate of only 8% for the county residents they serve who are released from New York State prisons.

In Dutchess County, a recent study demonstrated that 37.5% of jail inmates with behavioral health issues could have been safely diverted in the pre-arrest stage if linked to treatment alternatives to incarceration—this accounts for almost 25% of the total jail population. 

"Ulster County needs to establish a formalized re-entry program to reduce recidivism and the revolving door of incarceration so that we can reintegrate previously incarcerated individuals into our community and rebuild families," states Legislator Laura Petit. "This recommendation aligns with Executive's Justice Reform Commission's call to create discharge plans that connect locally incarcerated people with housing, mental health treatment, and jobs before release. And once released, to provide the skills, training and support programs they need to not re-offend." 



A UC-CJRTF subcommittee studied the option of implementing a countywide Centralized Arraignment Part (“CAP”) in Ulster County. The task force spoke with diverse criminal justice stakeholders to explore the benefits and issues of concerns about transitioning to a CAP Program.   

“A CAP program would offer increased efficiency and streamline the use of law enforcement and judicial resources by consolidating arraignments in one centralized location. Ulster County magistrates would have predictable schedules and no longer would be required to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” states Andrew Kossover, vice-chair of CJRTF, co-chair of the UC-CJRTF CAP Subcommittee, legislative chair of the NYS Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section and Committee on Mandated Representation, and former president and legislative chair of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.   

“The 2019 New York bail reform, and the 2020 revisions, resulted in what many have perceived as a reduction in the need for off-hour arraignments, adds Mr. Kossover. “The COVID pandemic has greatly hindered our ability to measure the need for a CAP system in our county.”   

“The courts shut down for nearly a year immediately following the implementation of the new bail reform laws, said Chief Robert Lucchesi, New Paltz Police Department. "We do not have the data to adequately measure the impact of bail reform on after-hour arraignments at this time.” The Chief adds, “Once we are past the pandemic, and the courts and criminal justice system have resumed normal operations for a year or so, we can analyze the data and revisit the question.”   

“Success with implementing a CAP program in our county necessitates the full cooperation from the local magistrates”, said Mr. Kossover. “Efforts are being made to encourage magistrates to consider the potential positive implications while also addressing other municipal impacts. To date, there is no consensus in our county as to whether we should move toward being a CAP county,”    

17 New York counties have implemented centralized arraignments. Others, such as Dutchess County, are still in exploration.