New York City is pledging $17.8 million to help keep low-level and nonviolent offenders awaiting trial off of Rikers Island in an effort to reduce pretrial detention and alleged offenders’ need to post cash bail.
The plan allows judges to extend supervised release options to people awaiting trial, free of charge, allowing them to stay in their homes and continue to work, the city announced on Wednesday. The plan is modeled after successful pilot programs in Queens and Manhattan, and the city is seeking bids from non-profit organizations to monitor supervised release in the five boroughs.
“There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement announcing the plan on Wednesday. “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. This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay.”
About 45,500 people are detained on bail every year, according to the city, making up 14 percent of defendants in New York City courts.
The plan is expected to start next year, the Associated Press reported.
Of the $17.8 million, $4 million is coming from the city and $13.8 million from Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s office from asset forfeiture funds.
The move was praised by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton as a step toward equal justice.
New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman praised the decision as well, saying in a statement that “New York City is taking an important step toward making our criminal justice system more just.”
The bail system has been criticized for unfairly targeting poor people, and was renewed last month when 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide at his parents’ home in the Bronx. Browder previously spent three years on Rikers Island for a robbery charge, though he had not been convicted of a crime. Two of those three years were spent in solitary confinement, the New York Times reported.
Following Browder’s suicide, New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman called the bail system “totally ass-backwards in every respect” in an interview with the New York Observer.
Lippman also applauded the announcement on Wednesday, saying the courts will "cooperate fully with the program announced today.”