Gothamist: How Will De Blasio’s Bail Reform Actually Work?

After news of Kalief Browder’s suicide, many advocates called on Mayor de Blasio to fix New York’s draconian and unfair bail system. On July 8th, Mayor de Blasio responded by announcing a new bail reform for New York City’s court systems. People charged with certain misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would have the option of supervised release—instead of being remanded to Rikers if they couldn’t pay bail.

The supervised release program will only be open to 3,400 defendants a year throughout the five boroughs. Which puts this statistic, reported by the New York Times, in perspective: the reform will only reduce the population in Rikers by 200 detainees at any given a time.

With a system that set bail for over 2,400 misdemeanor charges and 4,600 low-level (both violent and nonviolent) felony charges in 2013, Mayor de Blasio’s new reform will barely make a dent in changing the way New York City’s criminal justice system operates.

For many of the people charged with low-level crimes, they will still have to face a bail amount they will not be able to pay. In all, around 45,000 people are sent to Rikers each year because they cannot afford to post bail.

Mayor de Blasio’s reform also stops short of removing the bail barrier for low-level offenses across the board. The judge will ultimately make the decision as to whether or not the defendant will be placed in the supervised release program or at Rikers Island jail, in the event he cannot post bail. The judge is also the only one with the authority to remove the defendant from the program and set bail.

“The problem with our bail system is not that we don’t have a supervised release program. The problem is that judges aren’t following the law,” Justine Olderman, the managing director of The Bronx Defenders’ criminal defense practice told Gothamist.

“The law provides for 9 different forms of bail, but judges only set the two more difficult forms of bail for poor people to pay—cash and insurance company bond—even though studies show that other forms of bail are just as effective in ensuring people’s return to court,” Olderman said.

“They also don’t tailor the amount of bail to a person’s financial resources even though the law requires them to consider financial resources when setting bail…You will almost never see judges asking about a person’s financial resources or setting bail in an amount that is less than $500 or $1,000 even though that is out of reach for many people in the criminal justice system.”

By Raven Rakia

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