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What happens to the jail population when we the change bail policy?

Jail Population

The current overall population of Rikers Island averages 8,900 people per day. Approximately 92% of people held there are people of color. While some people living on Rikers Island have been convicted of crimes and are serving a jail sentence, the overwhelming majority of people have not been convicted of anything. Even though they are presumptively innocent, these people are incarcerated because they cannot afford the amount of bail money needed to be released. In 2017, after communities and advocates joined together to demand Rikers be shut down for good, the New York City Council and Mayor began to take steps to close the facility, which has long been plagued by human rights abuses.

Ending Money Bail

Along with impacted communities, we have been fighting for a legislative change to the current bail law that would end the use of money bail once and for all. We are also working hard to achieve a courtroom victory that clarifies that money bail cannot be used to incarcerate presumptively innocent people. While we do not know whether such transformative legislative reform is ultimately achievable, we calculate that if we completely prohibited the use of monetary bail in New York City today, the daily Rikers Island jail population would be reduced to 2,500 people.

Correct Use of Bail

One driver of mass incarceration is the inability of New York’s judges and prosecutors to correctly utilize the current bail law. If judges applied the current law correctly—in accordance with statutory and constitutional law—Legal Aid estimates that the Rikers Island jail population would be reduced by approximately 1,020 additional people per day. Since its inception, the Decarceration Project has raised a number of legal challenges to the implementation of the current bail statute, and are working to hold judges and prosecutors accountable for their actions.

Pretrial Jail Population

The current pretrial jail population of Rikers Island is approximately 6,800 people. These people are presumptively innocent—they have not been convicted of any wrong doing. Nearly 80% of them are incarcerated because they cannot afford the amount of bail money needed to purchase their freedom. New York’s current practice of requiring people to buy their freedom has come under increasing scrutiny, is likely unconstitutional because it disproportionately harms the poor and people of color.

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Drag the slider to the right to show what happens to the jail population when more judges use bail law correctly.

Jail Population

The current overall population of Rikers Island averages 8,900 people per day. Approximately 92% are people of color. While some people living on Rikers Island  have been convicted of crimes and serving a jail sentence, the overwhelming majority of people have not been convicted of anything. Presumptively innocent, these people are incarcerated because they cannot afford the amount of bail money needed to be released. In 2017, the New York City Council and Mayor began to take steps to close the facility, which has been plagued by human rights abuses.

Ending Money Bail

Along with impacted communities, we have been fighting for a legislative change to the current bail law that would end the use of money bail once and for all. We are also working hard to achieve a courtroom victory that clarifies that money bail cannot be used to incarcerate presumptively innocent people. While we do not know whether such transformative legislative reform is ultimately achievable, we calculate that if we completely prohibited the use of monetary bail in New York City today, the daily Rikers Island jail population would be reduced to 2,500 people.

Correct Use of Bail

One driver of mass incarceration is the inability of New York’s judges and prosecutors to correctly utilize the current bail law. If judges applied the current law correctly—in accordance with statutory and constitutional law—Legal Aid estimates that the Rikers Island jail population would be reduced by approximately 1,020 additional people per day. Since its inception, the Decarceration Project has raised a number of legal challenges to the implementation of the current bail statute, and are working to hold judges and prosecutors accountable for their actions.

Pretrial Population

The current pretrial jail population of Rikers Island is approximately 6,800 people. These people are presumptively innocent—they have not been convicted of any wrong doing. Nearly 80% of them are incarcerated because they cannot afford the amount of bail money needed to purchase their freedom. New York’s current practice of requiring people to buy their freedom has come under increasing scrutiny, is likely unconstitutional because it disproportionately harms the poor and people of color.

Litigation

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.

Policy

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.

Reentry

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.

Organize

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.

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