Misdemeanor Arrests Are an Automatic Two-Week Jail Sentence For the Poor

Sentences for misdemeanors like smoking weed or sneaking onto the subway usually don't come with any jail time. They don't have to. In NYC, a huge number of misdemeanor arrestees languish in jail for weeks, unable to afford bail.

Human Rights Watch reviewed all the non-felony arrests in NYC in 2008. Most of those arrested were released on their own recognizance. But for those who received bail figures of under $1,000, the results were grim:

Among defendants arrested in 2008 on nonfelony charges who had bail set at $1,000 or less, 87 percent were incarcerated because they were unable to post the bail amount at their arraignment. On average, they spent almost 16 days in pretrial detention for low-level offenses. Most were accused of nonviolent minor crimes such as shoplifting, turnstile jumping, smoking marijuana in public, drug possession, trespassing, and prostitution.

Almost a full one-quarter of NYC jail admissions that year were for people who hadn't been convicted of anything—they were simply unable to pay a few hundred bucks for bail. And for that, they sat on Rikers Island for more than two weeks on average. That's atrocious and inexcusable. And anyone who disagrees should immediately report to Riker's Island for sixteen days, because I know you've all possessed drugs or trespassed at one time or another. Even the Republicans.

[The full report. Photo via]