The Legal Aid Society Is Launching the Decarceration Project to Reduce Pre-Trial Incarceration of Poor People
FRIDAY, JUNE 03, 2016

Earlier this week, the New York Times reported what defenders across the country already know – that our wealthiest citizens can buy their freedom when facing prosecution. That privilege does not exist for the approximately 47,000 poor people presumed innocent, yet detained pre-trial in New York City every year. Despite the City’s bail reform efforts, many of those detained would not have qualified for help from a bail fund, or for supervised release.

In an effort to eradicate this problem, The Legal Aid Society is launching the “Decarceration Project,” an ambitious city-wide campaign to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the unnecessary pre-trial incarceration of poor people in New York City. The Decarceration Project will systematically challenge the thousands of unreasonable bail determinations made by judges every year. Pre-trial incarceration destroys lives yet serves no legitimate purpose, and offers no meaningful benefit to society.

The Decarceration Project will work to reduce the number of poor New Yorkers detained pre-trial, and to make transparent instances where judges imprison people because they are indigent. Yesterday, on Bloomberg Radio’s law program, Joshua Norkin, a staff attorney in the Society’s Special Litigation Unit and Project Director of this initiative, explained that New York’s bail statute, the Constitution, and case law all require a judge to take into consideration the individual circumstances of a defendant when determining bail or release. Norkin made clear the Decarceration Project’s guiding principle, “you cannot keep someone in jail simply because they are poor. And yet, that happens every single day in New York City. As we sit here right now, that is what is happening, and it shouldn’t be, because we have the tools and we have the means to make sure it does not happen.”

Tina Luongo, the Attorney in Charge of Legal Aid’s Criminal Practice, said that “Despite years of advocacy efforts by The Legal Aid Society, and our partners in the defense community, judges still fail to consider an individual defendants’ ability to pay bail and rarely release a poor client on an alternative form of bail. Equal justice demands the same release options for the poor as it does for the rich. We are excited to challenge the inequities of the system; we see the Decarceration Project as a way to put an end to a grave injustice.”

Legal Aid will continue to build this campaign throughout the year with the implementation of a website, best practices guide, and a statistics clearinghouse for press and interested parties. Legal Aid also continues to seek an immediate solution to the unnecessary imprisonment of individuals on $1 bail, monitor the implementation of the City’s new supervised release program, and push City officials to facilitate easier payment options for those detained.

More information is available at unlockjustice.org, or on Twitter @DecarcerateNYC. Specific inquiries can be directed to Justine Luongo at 212-577-3583, or jmluongo@legal-aid.org.