NYC Will Eliminate Bail for People Accused of Nonviolent Crimes


On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration released an $18 million plan that will, starting next year, allow NYC judges to keep nonviolent suspects out of Rikers by replacing bail with “supervision options including daily check-ins, text-message reminders and required drug or behavioral therapy.”

According to the AP:

Initial funding, provided by the Manhattan district attorney, allows for as many as 3,000 defendants charged with misdemeanors or non-violent felonies to bypass bail, letting them live with their families and keep their jobs while their cases wind through the courts. Officials say they would like to expand the program to include thousands more.

Bail reform is long overdue: repeatedly, all over the country, studies have shown that black suspects receive higher bail than white suspects, who are more likely to be given the cash-alternative options specified in NYC’s new plan. It’s particularly overdue in New York, where “race [is] a significant factor at nearly every stage of criminal prosecutions in Manhattan, from setting bail to negotiating a plea deal to sentencing,” and a full three-quarters of the people sitting in NYC jail are there because they’re waiting for trial—a total of almost 45,500 people every year behind bars after arrest but before conviction, the vast majority too poor to post bail.

Many of these people end up on Rikers Island, which has been, essentially, a torture site since the ‘30s. From an excellent, extensive recent Marshall Project report, there’s the story of:

… a schizophrenic, diabetic inmate named Bradley Ballard who was locked alone in his cell for six days without medication, insulin, food, or running water; officers and health workers remarked on the smell coming from his cell, but no one got up to help him until he went into cardiac arrest, covered in his own feces and with a rubber band around his genitals that had caused sepsis to set in.

Rikers is a place where trivial convictions can spiral into institutionalized manslaughter, and a crucial step in this horrifying process is the obligation of bail. A mayoral task force put out a recommendation for bail reform after the death of Jerome Murdough last year, a 56-year-old veteran who had been homeless when he was found sleeping in a Harlem stairwell. Charged with trespassing and unable to post his $2,500 bail, he was kept in a faulty cell whose temperatures rose over 100 degrees; he died seven days after he arrived.

Recently, the death of Kalief Browder—a young, mentally ill man who was held, abused, and put in solitary in Rikers for three years after being unable to post $3,000 bail for a charge that he stole a backpack—has brought conditions in the jail back to the forefront of public attention. This new program is a response to the human rights violations that led to his death, and could lead to larger changes, too. Via the AP:

About 10 percent of state, county and city courts currently use some such tool to decide if a defendant’s too risky to be released or who qualifies for some level of supervision, according to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which created its own risk instrument that’s used in Arizona, Kentucky and New Jersey as well as in cities such as Charlotte, Chicago, and Phoenix.
[…] But in New York, unlike most states, efforts to fully do away with bail are complicated by state law, which requires judges to consider defendants’ risk of flight, not their risk of reoffending, when determining bail conditions.
Glazer said she hoped legislators would consider changing the law, a move supported by the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, who said in a statement alternatives to either jail time or no supervision at all “are critical steps in reducing overreliance on bail.”

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Image via AP

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