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NYCLU report pushes for bail reform

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Between 2010 and 2014, 6,673 people spent a week or more in Monroe County jail with bail of $1,000 or less, according to a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union. More than 1,900 of them spent more than a week in jail on bail of $250 or less, it says.

The NYCLU is among several organizations pushing state lawmakers to fix New York's cash bail system, which they say leaves too many people jailed when they haven't been convicted of a crime. The report says that unaffordable cash bail results in people losing "their jobs, homes, and families" while they're being held. And when they plead guilty in exchange for release, they forfeit their right to trial, the report notes.

"Under the law you are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but our data shows that cash bail forces tens of thousands of New Yorkers to serve time before they get their day in court,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a press release accompanying the report. “New York legislators need to pass comprehensive bail reform now to ensure no one is punished because they can’t pay for their release. Rights shouldn’t come with a price tag.”

The report is based on data from 2010 to 2014 drawn from eight Upstate counties, of which Monroe was one. It says that more than 90,000 people were held on bail for at least one day in those counties over that period.  The data also showed serious racial disparity:  white people were twice as likely as black people to get released the day their bail was set.

Of the 90,000 people held on bail:

  • More than 60 percent faced misdemeanor charges or violation;
  • More than 21,000 had bail of $500 or less;
  • More than 45,000 were held for a week or more.

In Monroe County, 27,923 people were held on bail between 2010 and 2014.  Among them:

  • 2,059 were charged with a violation; 14,656 were charged with misdemeanors, and 10,959 were charged with felonies;
  • 24,997 spent a day or more in jail after their bail was set;
  • 5,641 spent a week or more in jail and were charged with misdemeanors such as petit larceny or criminal possession of a controlled substance without intent to sell;
  • 535 people facing a violation as the most serious charge were held for a week or more.

Those aren't all of the stats that NYCLU gathered for Monroe County, but they are some of the more illuminating ones. The report doesn't make many direct comparisons between the counties and when it does, the numbers vary sharply between smaller and larger counties. The report includes data from Monroe, Albany, Dutchess, Niagara, Orange, Schenectady, Ulster, and Westchester counties.

The NYCLU closes out the report with recommendations for lawmakers. It says the state should release people before their trial when they're charged with non-violent misdemeanors and felonies, and that jail time should be used before trials only if that's the only way to ensure they show up for appearances. Judges shouldn't set bail if a defendant doesn't have an attorney present and bail shouldn't be set beyond what people can afford, the report says. Judges should also be required to revisit bail decisions when a person can't afford to pay the amount set.

The report also calls for an end to for-profit bail bonds.

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