Bail Reform 2020
In April 2019, New York State passed historic changes to our criminal legal system, including to our unjust bail statute. The new legislation, which will go into effect on January 1, 2020, marks a new era in our pretrial system where release is the norm, not the exception. The new law eliminates cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies at first appearance, mandates the use of appearance tickets instead of arrests, and removes the for-profit interests from the pretrial services. The law also mandates judges to consider the accused’s ability to pay bail without posing an undue hardship. The law is projected to result in massive reduction in the pretrial detention population statewide. Read a summary of the law here.
What happens to the jail population when we the change bail policy?
We are changing the way public defenders fight illegal pretrial incarceration. With an attorney in every borough of New York City, our Women’s Pretrial Release Initiative, and a legal team dedicated to transformative bail litigation in New York’s trial and appellate courts, we are fighting every day to challenge our clients’ pretrial detention innovatively and effectively.
We are one of the state’s leading voices on criminal justice policy. Working with the New York City Council and Mayor’s office we have fought to facilitate our clients’ release from Rikers Island and challenge abusive practices by the Department of Corrections. Working with state legislators, we are advancing comprehensive criminal justice reform in Albany.
Our most important job is to get our clients back to their families and community. Our social work team works directly with our clients, their families, and our attorneys to ensure that clients get back home with the support that they need to overcome the difficulty of reentering the community after spending time incarcerated.
We belong to a variety of coalitions dedicated to advancing the interests of our clients. We partner with local defender organizations, community bail funds, and impacted communities to combat the systemic injustices. We also train attorneys throughout New York state, and work with national civil rights and defender organizations to ensure the community’s vision for reform becomes a reality.
HOW DOES BAIL PUNISH THE POOR?
Bail is not supposed to be punishment—it is a release mechanism. In theory, it is a monetary amount that someone must pay to be released from jail and to incentivize their return to court. However, when the amount of money required is beyond someone’s financial means it condemns them jail—regardless of guilt or innocence. The consequences of this disparate treatment are devastating for the poor and people of color, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. In 2017, approximately 47,000 people cycled through Rikers Island before ever being convicted of a crime. Over 90% were people of color. 34% of our clients were more likely to be convicted simply because bail was set.