Kalief Browder's family couldn't afford the $3,000 bail set by a judge for his robbery charges, so he spent three years enduring horrific abuse on Rikers Island; those charges were later dismissed. Last month, Browder hung himself. Today the Mayor's Office announced a $17.8 million program that would help 3,400 non-violent pretrial defendants like Browder avoid bail altogether.
Every year roughly 45,500 New Yorkers—representing 14% of all defendants who pass through New York City courts—are held on bail after they're arraigned. The City estimates that only 3,400 of those 45,500 would be eligible under the initiative, in that they are non-violent offenders, don't pose a safety risk, and cannot afford to post bail set by a judge.
“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," Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. "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.”
According to the mayor's press release, the program expands on pilot programs in Queens and Manhattan that currently allow 1,100 defendants to remain free on a supervised released program pending trial; 87% of those defendants successfully completed the program.
"Supervision could range from regular check-ins in person or by text message and include connection to programs and services that address defendants’ particular needs," the release states.
The City has released a Request For Proposals and will allocate $4 million for the initiative, and Manhattan DA Cy Vance Jr.'s office will chip in $13.8 million to increase the total number to 3,400 citywide.
The NYCLU's executive director, Donna Lieberman, released a statement praising the City's actions.
"No New Yorker should lose their home, job, family or basic liberty just because they are poor. We applaud the de Blasio administration for recognizing this and for putting New York City at the vanguard of this reform effort.”
The NYCLU believes that the City should go a step further and abolish cash bail for all those accused of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies; their statement notes that "at any given time, almost 40% of the Rikers population is there solely because they cannot afford to pay their bail."
Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, who believes that the NYPD should dial back its enforcement of petty misdemeanors and violations, also voiced his support for the new bail measure in a release.
“Providing judges with more accurate and complete information about the defendants who come before them and instituting effective alternatives such as supervised release are critical steps in reducing overreliance on bail," Lippman said.