Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice Announces New Tools to Make Paying Bail Easier, Reducing Unnecessary Jail TimeMay 13, 2016
Changes are part of the Bail Lab, launched in October 2015 to reduce safely New York City’s reliance on money bail
NEW YORK – The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice today announced several new tools that will make it easier for defendants to post bail. The resources – developed as part of the Bail Lab – include ATMs in all of New York City’s criminal courthouses and an easy-to-understand guide to paying bail that describes how to send bail money to inmates and obtain a bail refund.
Approximately 17,000 individuals per year are able to make bail after they are booked into Rikers Island jails, with 77 percent making bail within one week of being detained. This suggests that these defendants may be able to afford bail, but that inefficiencies in the bail payment process could be leading to delays that result in unnecessary time behind bars. To identify bottlenecks in the bail payment process, the City partnered with the Center for Court Innovation to comprehensively map physical and procedural obstacles to paying bail. The new tools announced today aim to eliminate these obstacles.
“The problem we are aiming to solve here is meaningless jail – for an individual who can afford to post bail, there is no reason why he or she should sit in jail for two days simply because of obstacles to paying bail,” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “Access to ATMs and comprehensive information about how to pay bail can mean the difference between posting bail at arraignment and going home, or being sent to Rikers.”
To improve the bail payment process, the City is:
- Securing ATMs for all criminal courthouses. New ATMs will be installed in three additional courthouses, ensuring access in every criminal court across the City. Often, defendants are brought to the courthouse during late night or early morning hours when few options exist to withdraw funds for bail payment. Inability to access cash and pay bail directly after arraignment can mean transfer to Rikers Island.
- Releasing a comprehensive “User Guide to Paying Bail.” For the first time, New Yorkers will be able to access comprehensive, easy-to-understand information about bail payment online at the Bail Lab website, in informational packets given to families at arraignment, and via the New York City 311 website. Among other resources, this guide includes information on how to access the Department of Correction web portal that allows the transfer of funds to an inmate, how bail gets refunded, and how to file a complaint against a commercial bail bondsman if an individual feels they have been charged an excessive fee.
- Exploring options to pay bail using a credit card. The City is currently working with the State’s Office of Court Administration to assess options for a defendant to pay his or her own bail with a credit or debit card.
Announced in October 2015, the Bail Lab seeks to address the fundamental issues that plague the money bail system in the City. Money bail is problematic because, for example, some low-risk defendants may spend time on Rikers Island because of inability to pay bail while some defendants who could be dangerous are able to pay bail and return to the street. The Mayor’s Office is working to move toward a system in which decisions about pre-trial detention are driven by risk.
While only 14 percent of defendants in New York City are detained on bail, this still amounts to approximately 47,000 individuals per year. The Bail Lab aims to reduce this number for individuals who can safely wait for trial in the community.
To reduce reliance on money bail and improve the City’s ability to protect public safety, the Bail Lab is:
- Expanding non-bail options for release before trial. Beginning in March 2016, judges citywide now have the option to assign eligible, lower-risk defendants to a program that will supervise them in the community while waiting for trial, allowing them to continue working and living at home instead of being detained in jail. Participation in the program includes a simple reminder system and voluntary referral to supportive services, such as behavioral health care or job training. To date, over 516 individuals are being safely supervised in the community instead of in jail.
- “Crowdsourcing” innovations. The Mayor’s Office hosted a public symposium titled “Resetting Bail: The Price of Justice in New York City” at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem on May 11, 2016. Over 400 members of the public, experts, advocates, and elected officials attended to explore bold ideas in bail reform. Additionally, thousands of individuals have visited the Bail Lab website, suggesting solutions like transparent and easily-accessible information on how to pay bail.
- Changing state law. The Mayor’s Office is pursuing a change to state law so that New York is no longer one of only four states that prohibit judges from considering public safety risk when making bail determinations. Current law can mean that some high-risk individuals may have low bail amounts set and be able to return to their neighborhood – and possibly re-offend – while waiting for trial. It can also mean that some low-risk people may be unnecessarily detained.
- Working with the New York City Council to establish a bail fund. The Mayor’s Office is supporting Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s creation of a citywide bail fund, and working with the Council to create eligibility criteria for this valuable program.
The Bail Lab builds upon New York City’s history of leading the nation in pre-trial justice reform. Currently, New York City is a national leader in the percentage of defendants – 68 percent – who wait for trial at home, without conditions like supervision or money bail. Justice Reboot, a joint initiative from the Mayor’s Office and the State Courts, has made significant progress in cutting case delay and reducing the number of felony criminal cases with a detained defendant that have been pending for longer than a year. The strategy announced today advances the administration’s work to ensure that all components of the City’s pre-trial system effectively protect public safety and increase fairness.
“As many aspects of the New York State Court System continue to modernize, the ability of defendants to secure bail has lagged behind. By bringing the bail process into the twenty first century, we further the ability to both ease the process and inform defendants on securing bail, as well as protect public safety and increase the efficiency of the court system.” – Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks
“By enabling individuals to post bail more easily, these new tools will promote efficiency, safety and justice in our jail system,” said NYC Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte. “We applaud the Bail Lab’s nimble and creative solutions to these longstanding bureaucratic problems.”
“New York’s current bail system and laws bear the shameful irony of keeping low-risk offenders awaiting trial behind bars while allowing certain violent offenders who have the means to meet bail to go free in the community,” said Assemblyman Luis Sepúlveda (D, Bronx), chair of the Subcommittee on Transitional Services. “I commend the administration for taking these visionary and unprecedented efforts to make the system safer for our communities and more transparent and easier to navigate, especially for very those charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses.”
“Red tape and court system inefficiencies should not unnecessarily detain individuals on Rikers Island who would otherwise be able to post bail. Today’s announcement proves that New York City is committed to a justice system that is fair and equitable for all. Reforming our broken bail system is an important step in this process and I thank Mayor de Blasio, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice’s Director Elizabeth Glazer for their leadership, vision, and dedication to meaningful and lasting criminal justice reform.” – Chair of the Committee on Public Safety Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson
“At a hearing on bail reform last June, my Committee on Courts & Legal Services highlighted how thousands of New Yorkers who have the money to make bail are instead sitting in Rikers Island because the mechanics of actually paying bail are confusing and archaic,” said Council Member Rory I. Lancman. “The changes announced by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice today incorporate several of our suggested reforms, and represent important first steps in bringing our antiquated bail system into the twenty-first century.”
“While we strive to provide alternative release options and eliminate the use of cash bail, we must recognize the urgency in the current system to provide fair, equitable, and expeditious ways to allowing defendants the exercise of their right to post their bail. We applaud such new initiatives that eliminate bureaucratic hurdles, which keep persons incarcerated unnecessarily.” – Peter C. Kiers of The New York City Criminal Justice Agency
Greg Berman, Executive Director of the Center for Court Innovation, stated, “Even where defendants have the ability to pay bail, research makes clear that navigating the payment process itself has long been a challenge, often leading to avoidable stays at Rikers Island. The reforms announced today by the city respond directly to this need and represent an important step in improving the quality of justice in New York.”
“Thousands of presumptively innocent New Yorkers are imprisoned each year solely for their inability to afford bail. A complete overhaul of this system is required. As we continue to fight for this, we were happy to work with MOCJ in making common-sense changes that will alleviate some of the harm caused.” – Peter Goldberg, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund
“In the criminal justice world, it is often said that ‘the process is the punishment.’ Nowhere is this more apparent than in our bail system. Improving the bail payment process is an important step towards reducing unnecessary punishment and ameliorating the devastating consequences of short jail stays.” – Ezra Ritchin of the Bronx Freedom Fund