New York Times: The Bail Trap
Every year, thousands of innocent people are sent to jail only because they can’t afford to post bail, putting them at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children — even their lives.
Two years later, that may be changing. This summer, the New York City Council took a tentative step toward reform by earmarking $1.4 million for a citywide fund to bail out low-level offenders. The fund, proposed with much fanfare by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito in her State of the City address in February, is modeled on a number of smaller bail funds around the city. The oldest of these, the Bronx Freedom Fund, was established in 2007 in association with the Bronx Defenders, a public-defender organization. The founders shut down the fund after only a year and a half, after a judge argued that it was effectively operating as an unlicensed bail-bond business. But before they did, the fund bailed out nearly 200 defendants and generated some illuminating statistics. Ninety-six percent of the fund’s clients made it to every one of their court appearances, a return rate higher even than that of people who posted their own bail. More than half of the Freedom Fund’s clients, now able to fight their cases outside jail, saw their charges completely dismissed. Not a single client went to jail on the charges for which bail had been posted. By comparison, defendants held on bail for the duration of their cases were convicted 92 percent of the time. The numbers showed what everyone familiar with the system already knew anecdotally: Bail makes poor people who would otherwise win their cases plead guilty.
By Nick Pinto
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