Archived Initiative: Reforming the Bail System


Money bail was originally intended to allow people waiting for trial to post a bond and remain in the community, working and with their families. Instead, in too many cases, inability to pay bail has become the sole reason why people are in jail.


In order to end money bail, the state must change legislation. While we push for that change, we are also working to minimize the harmful effects of the current bail system.

What we’re focused on right now:

  1. Implementing alternatives to money bail: New York City has developed an alternative to bail called Supervised Release, which allows judges to assign eligible, lower-risk defendants to a supervisory program that allows them to remain at home with their families and continue working while waiting for trial. The program can refer people to health, housing and employment services that can prevent future contact with the criminal justice system.
  2. Making it easier and faster to pay bail: The City is supporting a number of ways to speed up and simplify the bail payment system, including:
      • The “bail expediters” program is aimed at people with bail set at or below $5,000. Expediters are staff who can help families pay bail before their relative enters jail by interviewing defendants about who could help them post bail, contacting family members to let them know bail has been set, and helping to ensure that defendants are held at the courthouse while their contacts make the trip to court to post bail.
      • The City has installed ATMs in all courthouses and has implemented an online bail payment system to make it easier for defendants and their families to pay bail the judge has set.
      • The City is helping people charged with misdemeanors who who have had bail set at or below $2,000 by launching a Charitable Bail Fund that expands the availability of its resources to all five boroughs. Created by the City Council with public funds, the Fund pays bail of $2,000 or less for an estimated 1,000 low-and medium-risk misdemeanor defendants annually.
      • The Legal Aid Society’s Second Look program is receiving support from the City so that it can provide legal and social services for people held on bail. The program connects people in custody with family and other community ties, personal history reviews and matches clients with supportive programming.
  3. Providing judges with better information: Like many jurisdictions around the country, New York City uses a pretrial release tool to assess a defendant’s likelihood of return to court. Judges use this tool to inform their decisions on whether to release a defendant on a promise to return to court, to use Supervised Release, to set bail, or to place a defendant in jail until their next court appearance. The City is updating these tools with more recent data, advances in data science and new technologies to allow for more accurate risk identification.


Featured Press Clips:

Bronx Defenders