U.S. News

New York City creates bail alternative for low-risk defendants

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New Yorkers who are charged with low-level crimes but cannot afford bail could avoid jail time under an $18 million program being launched by the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday.

Eligible defendants will be released but monitored under the initiative, which comes amid wide debate about the bail system in courts around the United States.

Reform advocates say the system disproportionately keeps poor people behind bars, sometimes for years, while awaiting trial, even if they are charged with minor or non-violent offenses.

“There is a very real human cost to how our criminal justice system treats people while they wait for trial,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose.”

Last month, 22-year-old Kalief Browder hanged himself at his Bronx home after spending three years at the notoriously rough Rikers Island jail because he could not make bail while awaiting trial for stealing a backpack.

Browder’s case was dismissed in 2013.

Following news of the suicide, the mayor publicly vowed to push to improve the city’s criminal justice system.

The new citywide system, which will give judges the option of releasing defendants without bond, will apply to about 3,400, of the 45,000 people detained on bail each year in New York City.

On Wednesday, the city initiated the bidding processes for non-profit organizations to run the supervised release program.

The winning bidder will select eligible defendants and use in-person check-ins or text messages to make sure they return to court when required.

It was not clear when the program, predominantly funded through asset forfeiture from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, would take effect.

Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Mohammad Zargham