City to Prevent 2,000 Low-Risk People from Entering Jail Every Year

August 31, 2017


City expands program that helps families pay bail in critical hours after arraignment, which will reduce the number of people who enter jail

NEW YORK–The New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice today announced the expansion of a pioneering bail expediting program that will keep nearly 2,000 low-risk people out of jail every year. The program helps people pay bail following arraignment, ensures defendants are held at the courthouse instead of going to Rikers while the bail money is raised and assists those navigating the bail payment process. The bail expediting program is funded by the City of New York and operated by the New York City Criminal Justice Agency (CJA), a not-for-profit corporation with which the City contracts to provide pretrial services.

Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said, “New York City is committed to ensuring that no one is in the City’s jails if public safety does not require it. Expansion of the successful bail expediting program is one piece of the City’s larger criminal justice reform strategy to ensure a smaller, safer and fairer system.”

Some people end up at Rikers for reasons not associated with the merits of the case, such as not having prompt access to cash or not being able to raise bail before being admitted to jail. Three-quarters of people who pay bail do so within seven days of arraignment after a judge has set bail. The $500,000 expansion of the bail expediting program will help prevent admissions to jail for this population, avoiding the consequences of time in detention, such as lost jobs or housing.

As part of the expanded program, CJA will increase its ability to facilitate bail payment by contacting family members and other potential sureties and helping them navigate the process. Specifically, the expansion will fund services to increase the number of eligible people to everyone with bail set under $5,000 in all boroughs except Staten Island, which does not have a bail expediter program. Defendants who have bail set at $5,000 and under are often charged with lower-level offenses and considered likely to show up at their next court appearance. The expansion also includes the ability for CJA to request a four-to-eight hour delay in transportation to jail to assist families in posting bail while a defendant is still at the courthouse.

These changes will maximize the chance that the defendant and expediter will be able to arrange for bail to be paid and ensure that fewer people go to Rikers. Since 2015, the bail expediting program has kept around 1,300 people per year from being admitted to city custody and the expansion will reach approximately 700 more people each year.

Making it easier and faster to pay bail is a key strategy outlined in Smaller, Safer, Fairer: A Roadmap to Closing Rikers Island, the plan released by the City earlier this summer. Real-time updates on progress in implementing this plan are available here.

“We are delighted by the Mayor’s support, which will allow us to expand this important program,” said Aubrey Fox, Executive Director of the New York City Criminal Justice Agency. “We are excited to play a role in supporting the ambitious bail reform strategy of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.”

Expanding the bail expediter program is the latest in a series of bail reform initiatives undertaken by the Mayor’s Office. These include charitable bail funds, which bail out individuals charged with misdemeanors who have bail set at $2,000 less, the installation of ATMs in every courthouse to ensure that friends and families have easy access to cash at all hours, and the creation of an online bail payment system so that bail can be paid remotely by the internet or phone. The City is also eliminating fees associated with paying bail and is providing people with a first-of-its-kind complete guide to the bail system to help navigate the complex system and ensure that a loved one does not spend unnecessary time behind bars.

In addition, the City is making progress on a plan to cut the time spent in jail awaiting trial, which will reduce the overall population on Rikers Island. The number of cases that involve people who have been in custody for more than three years is down by 34 percent compared to this time last year and the average length of a Supreme Court case in New York City has fallen by 18 days in the last two years. Reducing the number of people in custody will enable the City to close Rikers Island and replace it with a network of smaller, modern jails. These reforms are being carried out while simultaneously driving crime to historic lows.

“I am elated that the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice is expanding its bail expediting program. By implementing this common sense measure, our City will help low-income New Yorkers to avoid unnecessary jail stays and make the process of posting bail more accessible and comprehensible,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “I commend the efforts of Mayor de Blasio and the Office of Criminal Justice for actively working to reform our criminal justice system and making our City a more just place for all.”

“As a member of the Assembly Committee on Correction, I salute Mayor de Blasio for expanding this worthy effort that will not only help significantly reduce the jail population, but also spare many individuals and their loved ones from the heartache of separation, potential loss of employment and other issues,” said Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda.

“Giving defendants the tools they need to make bail, like additional time to raise money or the presence of an ATM in a courthouse, are common sense solutions that will help low-risk individuals avoid unnecessary and often damaging trips to jail,” said Assemblyman David Weprin, Chair of the Corrections Committee. “By expanding the Bail Expediting Program, New York takes a bold step towards fairness in our criminal justice system.”

Council Member Vanessa Gibson, Chair of the Public Safety Committee, said, “Today, New York City takes another important step towards our goal of smaller, safer jails. Investing in the Bail Expediting Program, and expanding its ability to keep low-level, non-violent offenders out of Rikers Island, will help us make sure income is never again a barrier to fair treatment under the law. I thank the Mayor and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice for their leadership and vision as we work together to bring equity to the criminal justice system.”

“We must always work towards our ideals of justice and fairness,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “This means taking a hard look at tangible improvements to avoid needless and punitive practices that further isolate individuals. The City has been making continuous progress in remedying past criminal injustices. The work is never truly finished, but I applaud the administration in taking steps towards fulfilling its promise for a more equitable city.”

“Today’s announcement is a major step in ensuring that young men and woman, primarily of color, will not suffer the same fate that individuals such as Kalief Browder did because they couldn’t make bail,” said Council Member Donovan Richards. “The renewed bail expeditors program will ensure that we reduce the population on Rikers Island, while simultaneously helping individuals rebuild their lives,” ended Richards.

“We welcome the much needed expansion of the BEX program–a positive step toward repairing the City’s broken bail system by ensuring that our clients are released immediately following their arraignment. Far too often, our clients, who are presumed innocent, are sent to Rikers Island despite being able to afford the bail set. BEX assists these clients by allowing them to return home to their communities without ever having to suffer in a jail complex the City has vowed to shutter,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, The Legal Aid Society.

“Thousands of people charged, but not convicted, of a crime are stuck in jail solely because they cannot afford to post money bail set by the judge. Every effort made to assist people in finding ways to post bail is a step forward in overcoming barriers to justice. We appreciate the Mayor’s commitment to reducing the population of Riker’s Island and moving towards closing the facility that is known for its extreme violence and harsh treatment of our clients,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice advises the Mayor on public safety and, together with partners inside and outside of government, develops and implements policies that reduce crime, reduce unnecessary incarceration and promote fairness. More information is available here.

The New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Inc. (CJA) is a not-for-profit corporation serving the City’s criminal justice system under contract with the Office of the Coordinator for Criminal Justice. CJA serves the City of New York by pursuing the following goals: decreasing detention for defendants who are likely to return to court without bail; increasing court attendance among defendants who are released pending the disposition of their court case; furthering the use of non-custodial sentencing sanctions in the community courts; providing information and research services to criminal justice policy makers, City officials, and the public.