Absent Legislation, NYC To Improve Nuts And Bolts of Bail


In the absence of statewide bail reform laws, New York City officials are looking for practical fixes they can put in place now to help the 50,000 people sent to jail every year because they can’t afford bail money.

Among the changes announced Tuesday: Streamlining the current 65-page form authorizing credit card bail, and better coordinating the bus schedule from courthouses to Rikers Island jail so defendants have more time to post bail.

“We can’t wait for the legislative change,” said Elizabeth Glazer, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s criminal justice coordinator. “We have a system that we sort of have to fix. But to fix it, we need to understand what makes the system tick.”

Unlike in most states, judges in New York must only take into account a defendant’s risk of flight, not his threat to public safety, in determining bail.

The use of money as bail is intended to make sure a defendant doesn’t skip court dates, but has been criticized for holding pretrial detainees, sometimes for years, simply because they’re too poor to post bail.

While a family member can put bail money into an inmate’s commissary account online, using that bail money requires jail officials to physically fax authorization forms from a central intake facility to housing dorms — a process that can take up to six hours to complete.

About 77 percent of those held on bail at arraignment are able to post bail within a week of being jailed, according to court statistics.

In New York City most people who are arrested are released on their own recognizance or their cases are disposed.

But of the 14 percent of defendants who are jailed on bail, roughly nine out of 10 fail to post it at arraignment, according to court statistics.