NYC Mayor Promises Bail-Bond Reform

     MANHATTAN (CN) – For New Yorkers too poor to post bail, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced a $17.8 million program meant to keep thousands of pretrial inmates out of Rikers Island.
     “There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Money bail is a problem because – as the system currently operates in New York – some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose.”
     City Hall said that of the 45,500 held on bail annually, about 3,000 people will be eligible for the program — a fraction of a percentage of the detained population.
     Few details have come to light about the program titled ‘supervised release,’ which will give judges greater discretion to choose unspecified bail alternatives for a subset of defendants eligible for the program.
     While City Hall has kept mum on the details, the Associated Press learned that the program begins next year, applies only to “low-risk defendants,” and allows judges to swap bail with “check-ins, text-message reminders and connecting them with drug or behavioral therapy.”
     The New York Civil Liberties Union’s senior attorney Corey Stoughton said in a phone interview that she believed that the initiative is a “tremendous development” that could mark a step toward abolishing the bail system.
     New York City has been tinkering with reforms like the one announced today since the launch of a pilot program in Queens in 2009 that expanded to Manhattan four years later.
     Hon. Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the state of New York, hailed those programs in his annual State of the Judiciary report for 2013.
     That report’s section on bail initiatives hearkened back to the words of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
     “Usually only one factor determines whether a defendant stays in jail before he comes to trial,” Kennedy said in 1964. “That factor is not guilt or innocence. It is not the nature of the crime. It is not the character of the defendant. That factor is, simply, money.”
     Six years after Kennedy’s comment, New York’s legislature adopted a bail statute intended to create the presumption of pretrial release, but the NYCLU estimates that nearly 40 percent of the population at Rikers remains there because of their inability to pay.
     In 2014, the New Yorker called attention to the plight of innocent Rikers inmates who couldn’t post bail in a profile of Kalief Browder, who spent more than three years in pretrial lockup as a teenager for charges that were ultimately dismissed.
     Spending much of that time in solitary confinement, Browder’s reports of rampant abuse helped build momentum toward reforms at Robert N. Davoren Center, the juvenile lockup at Rikers.
     In early June, however, Browder succumbed to the psychological turmoil from his time at Rikers and committed suicide at the age of 22.
     New York City agreed to extensive reforms to the prison later that month.
     The NYCLU cited Browder’s “heartbreaking” story as a reason for bail reform.
     “Locking up New Yorkers who should be treated as innocent until proven guilty just because they are poor offends the values and principles this country was built on,” its executive director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
     City Hall issued a request for proposals non-profit organizations capable of administering the program in all five boroughs on Wednesday. Most of the program’s funding comes from $13.8 million forfeited to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

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