16:02, January 10 259 0 theguardian.com

2018-01-10 16:02:03
New York City to end cash bail for non-felony cases in win for reform advocates

The district attorneys for Manhattan and Brooklyn have announced that their offices will no longer seek bail for most non-felony cases, allowing defendants to be released on their own recognizance rather than sit in jail or fork over big sums of cash while awaiting trial for crimes deemed less serious.

The change could save New Yorkers millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of days of jail time, and follows a city, state and nationwide trend towards reforming the system of pre-trial justice.

The Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance Jr, said his office would follow the new directive from Tuesday and would no longer request cash bail in most misdemeanor and violation cases. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez’s office began doing similarly last year.

“Over the past eight years, we have made the advancement of criminal justice reform a part of the mission of the Manhattan district attorney’s office, right alongside our centuries-old founding mission of public safety,” Vance said in a statement.

“Our reform mission requires that we continually evaluate the justice system we have in the context of the city we are today, and identify practices which result in unfair or unnecessary consequences for New Yorkers accused of crimes.”

According to data compiled by the New York Criminal Justice Agency, about 18% of non-felonious arrestees in the city were issued some bail amount in 2015. Defendants who have bail set must either provide it in full to the court, pay a bondsman to cover it for them or remain in jail awaiting the resolution of the charges.

Criminal justice advocates, along with several US courts have argued that this system, which allows people to be held in jail even if they have not been convicted of a crime, so long as they are poor, is unproductive and unconstitutional.

“Symbolically, whether it affects a few people or a lot of people, it is a move in the right direction,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute, a non-profit that works to end money bail and scale back the use of pre-trial detention. “It’s a recognition by the city that the current system is broken.”

New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, also announced his support for bringing an end to cash bail statewide in his “state of the state” address last week. New Jersey made a similar move in 2016, and state legislatures in Missouri, Ohio, Alabama, California and Maryland are expected to debate legislation in early 2018 that would do the same. A bipartisan group of US senators have also discussed legislation to outlaw cash bail nationwide, but it has not gained much traction.

According to a comprehensive 2014 report from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, there were more than 225,000 misdemeanor arrests in New York City in 2013, and the average misdemeanor jail stay in 2015 was 17 days.

In addition, NYCJA found that the median bail set for a New York City misdemeanor arrest was $1,000.

If all of those figures were to hold true, and New York’s other boroughs followed the lead of Manhattan and Brooklyn, the impact could be profound. Some 40,000 New Yorkers could avoid a cumulative 680,000 days in jail annually, waiting for trial or save $40m in bail owed to buy their temporary freedom.

It is quite possible those boroughs will too. On Tuesday, the Bronx DA, Darcel Clark, told the Citizen’s Crime Commission that her office supports bail reform generally, adding: “If we are not asking for jail, then we should not be asking for bail. For my [assistant] DAs, the default is no bail.”