Citing dismal conditions at Rikers Island and a 16-year-old who committed suicide after he was jailed without charges for three years, the city of New York announced Wednesday plans to eliminate bail requirements for non-violent and low-level offenders.
According to the AP, which broke the story, about 45,000 people are held on bail in New York City each year. With many low-income defendants unable to pay their bond or show the source of their funds, Rikers Island has exploded with prisoners. Despite reports of violence, untreated injuries, and unnecessary punitive measures, reform has been slow.
And the consequences are real for defendants who can’t make bail. Via the New York Times, many defendants lose their jobs, their homes, and their families, with some even pleading guilty just to get out of jail.
For those who cannot afford to post bail, even a short stay in jail can quickly unravel lives and families. Criminal defendants are overwhelmingly poor, many living paycheck to paycheck, and detention can cause job losses and evictions. Parents can lose custody of their children and may have a difficult time regaining it, even when cases are ultimately dropped. And people in jail who are not guilty routinely accept plea deals simply to gain their freedom, leaving them with permanent records.
Now, the AP reports, the city plans to reduce the number of prisoners by allowing judges to offer alternatives to bail like “daily check-ins, text-message reminders and connecting them with drug or behavioral therapy.”
The initial funding, provided by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, will reportedly benefit about 3,000 defendants next year.