City Limits: Bail Fund Aims to Free Poor Defendants

The Bronx Defenders, through its affiliate the Bronx Freedom Fund, bailed hundreds of people between 2007 and 2009. According to Robin Steinberg, executive director of The Bronx Defenders, “During the 18 months that the Bronx Freedom Fund operated, 150 clients were bailed out and the return rate of our clients was an impressive 95 percent. Additionally, not one client who received Freedom Fund assistance, and was bailed out, was sentenced to jail on their case and almost 50 percent of the cases were dismissed entirely.”
The Bronx Defenders initially raised funds from the Flom Family Foundation and then asked outside counsel to create a separate non-profit entity with its own governing board and administrator to run the fund and post bail for eligible clients. Later, the JM Kaplan Foundation provided funding that enabled the Bronx Defenders to create a separate Immigrant Bond Fund and the FJC Foundation provided additional financial support to the Bronx Freedom Fund.
After a state court in 2009 rejected bail paid by the Freedom Fund because the Fund was not a licensed bail bond agency, the organization ” voluntarily suspended its services,” according to Steinberg, “pending the passage of legislation that would explicitly exempt non-profit entities” from licensing requirements.
One hurdle cleared
That legal obstacle was eliminated in July with the passage of a state law—sponsored by State Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry of Queens—that excuses non-profits from the licensing requirements of for-profit bail-bond businesses. This permits state-registered non-profit groups to provide up to $2,000 in bail for poor defendants charged with misdemeanor crimes. That was good news both for the Bronx effort and the new one in Brooklyn.
By Jamila Pringle
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