Vocal NY and Vera Institute of Justice Seek Reform in the Criminal Justice System, Reported by City Lab

Posted on December 1, 2017

Why New York City Created Its Own Fund to Bail People Out of Jail

Originally Posted by City Lab on December 1, 2017
Written by Teresa Mathew

The Liberty Fund, created by the City of New York, sets free some of the very people that the city’s municipal judges have deemed a flight risk. The program is, in the words of civil rights advocate Nick Malinowski, “a little weird.” “You have the city paying for the police to make the arrests, the prosecutors to prosecute, and now you’re going to have the city fund the bail money to pay [people] out?” said Malinowski, civil rights campaign director at Vocal NY, a grassroots organization that tackles mass incarceration. But the fund, which actually relies on money from a private donor for the bail costs, is one of several initiatives by the city to disassemble the bail system from the inside. New York City doesn’t get to make policy about bail so, instead, the city has created a program that works within a system it wants to eradicate. In New York City, 75 percent of people in jail have not been convicted: they are simply waiting for their trial. Often, this is because they can’t afford to pay the bail set to ensure that they return to court. New York City cannot abolish or replace the bail system; that power rests with the state legislature in Albany. But the city has taken significant steps in recent years to chip away at the system handed down by the state. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently pledged $30 million to a set of four criminal justice reforms as part of a larger campaign to close Riker’s Island, New York City’s main jail complex. The bail bond industry has been a vocal opponent of most reforms to the bail system, fighting to preserve its livelihood. Charitable bail funds, on the other hand, work to render themselves obsolete. The Liberty Fund works off of that model, but it is subject to many restrictions on how its funding can be used. Politicians tend to be in favor of using risk-assessment tools, a method that has nearly eliminated cash bail in New Jersey. Many activists, on the other hand, believe those tools are flawed and biased against poorer communities of color. They want an overhaul of the way policing is done, for judges to set different kinds of bail (New York State’s bail statute provides eight alternatives to cash bail, though cash bail is set most frequently), and for there to be more programs like supervised release or community service alternatives. “Here is the blueprint for the Liberty Fund: We do a very good job, and in three or five years we have the stats for meaningful bail reform. A new system or a better system is put into place. The blueprint is charitable bail funds put themselves out of business,” said David Long, the Liberty Fund’s executive director. “I see value in a bail fund, because it’s so immediate,” said Insha Rahman, a senior planner at the Vera Institute of Justice. “But is it the only answer? No, it’s one proof point. Other proof points are less sexy: working with local court systems, training judges on making bail decisions differently, and just simply releasing more people.”

Original Post