Westchester DA details the challenges, changes impacting criminal justice system

Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino opened up to News 12’s Tara Rosenblum about the challenges and changes impacting the criminal justice system across the Hudson Valley as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

News 12 Staff

Apr 7, 2020, 8:52 PM

Updated 1,506 days ago

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Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino opened up to News 12’s Tara Rosenblum about the challenges and changes impacting the criminal justice system across the Hudson Valley as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In all my years, I’ve never experienced anything like it,” says Scarpino. “It's a world we have never experienced before, something we are learning and handling on the fly.”
One of the most dramatic changes kicking off this week came in the form of virtual bail and arraignment proceedings via Skype for defendants in Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess counties in order to ensure social distancing.
Scarpino's staff continues to try cases mostly from home.
“It’s important to realize the criminal justice system is still operational,” he says. “We are continuing to do investigations, discovery and bail applications.”
Crime is down significantly - about half - across the region as most New Yorkers shelter in place.  Some worry that more people will lose work and jobs the longer the crisis drags on, raising concerns over substance abuse and "layoff" crime.
One study found unemployed people tend to commit 60% more burglaries and theft.
But even more worrisome to Scarpino are the cases he fears will never wind up on his desk.
“What concerns us is the issues of domestic violence, elder care, child abuse...while the numbers are down that doesn't mean the events are not occurring,” he says.
Even when the calls do come in, there are now far fewer officers available to respond.
“Fourteen percent of county law enforcers are out right now. Either they have the virus, or they are quarantined. That's a large number,” says Scarpino.
Further complicating the world of "crime and punishment" is the growing spread of the coronavirus behind bars.
Just last week, there was word of dozens of infections at the county jail.
“We are going to discuss this with legal aid and take bail applications to reduce individuals. People go to jail and are there for a reason, but they are not there for a death sentence,” he says.
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