Legal Aid Calls City’s New Bail Initiative “a Strong Step Toward True Bail Reform and True Fairness”
FRIDAY, JULY 10, 2015

Appearing on New York 1 and quoted in the New York Times, Tina Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society, called the City’s new bail initiative “a strong step toward true bail reform and true fairness in the justice system.”

Ms. Luongo said that “the Mayor's initiative to expand the opportunity for people to go home to their families, go home to their jobs, go home to their children while their pending case during this supervised release program is really crucial.”

Ms. Luongo said we will be assessing the initiative’s performance by how many of the defendants avoid the hardships of extended stints in jail. “That’s the success, the true success—diverting as many people off Rikers Island as possible.”




De Blasio Administration Looks to Eliminate Bail for Nonviolent Suspects Who Can't Afford It
By NY1 News
Thursday, July 9, 2015

The de Blasio administration has announced another criminal justice reform, looking to eliminate bail for some nonviolent suspects who can't afford it.

Instead of holding them in jail waiting for trial, the administration says it will spend nearly $18 million to supervise 3,000 eligible defendants safely in the community.

The initiative will let judges put defendants in a special program, where they'll be able to live at home and keep working.

"The mayor's initiative to expand the opportunity for people to go home to their families, go home to their jobs, go home to their children while their pending case during this supervised release program is really crucial," said Tina Luongo, deputy attorney-in-charge of the criminal practice of the Legal Aid Society. "It's a nice strong step toward true bail reform and true fairness in the justice system."

The New York Civil Liberities Union is also praising the move, saying, "Justice shouldn't be a luxury for the rich. No New Yorker should lose their home, job, family or basic liberty just because they are poor."




The New York Times
New York City to Relax Bail Requirements for Low-Level Offenders
By RICK ROJAS
July 8, 2015

New York City officials announced a plan on Wednesday to change bail requirements for some low-level offenders in an effort to keep thousands of people accused of nonviolent crimes and misdemeanors out of the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.

The program, which is expected to cost nearly $18 million, will allow judges to release up to 3,000 low-risk defendants while placing them under court supervision as they await trial. Supporters of the program hope the initiative will help defendants who otherwise would remain jailed because they cannot afford bail.

“Money bail is a problem because, as the system currently operates in New York, some people are being detained based on the size of their bank account, not the risk they pose,” Mayor Bill de Blasio , a Democrat, said in a statement. “This is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay.”

The bail reform plan is part of a $130 million package of changes to the city’s criminal justice system the city began rolling out in December in part to address dysfunction at Rikers.

Reducing the population to make the jail complex more manageable was one of the central objectives, and along with the bail changes, the city is also expanding public health services and other programs for people with mental health and substance abuse problems.

The citywide program is still in its early stages, with officials announcing on Wednesday that the city was seeking bids from nonprofit organizations to administer the program in each of the boroughs. Officials also have to decide the criteria to determine which defendants would be eligible for supervised release. The city plans on selecting providers in each borough by September and rolling out the program by early next year.

The reform package has been endorsed by some of the city’s top law enforcement officials, including Police Commissioner William J. Bratton. And on Wednesday, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the State Court of Appeals, called alternatives like supervised release “critical steps in reducing overreliance on bail.”

“Far too many individuals awaiting trial who pose no risk to public safety are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to post the bail amount set by the courts,” Judge Lippman said in a statement.

Most of the funding for the initiative is coming from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, using more than $13 million out of the billions forfeited by the French bank BNP Paribas after violating United States sanctions. Another $4 million will be paid by the city.

The program is modeled on pilot projects operating in Manhattan and Queens. In Queens, where the program began in 2009, 87 percent of the defendants returned to court and completed the requirements.

Jail systems in Kentucky, Milwaukee and Portland, Ore., have all moved away from relying on money bail, said Nancy Fishman, a project director at the Vera Institute, a criminal justice research organization. In Washington, D.C., which in the 1990s eliminated bail in most cases, nearly 90 percent of defendants return for their court date, she said.

“You can get a lot of people out of jail who don’t need to be there,” Ms. Fishman said. “There’s a real opportunity to go big in New York.”

City officials estimate that eliminating cash bail for defendants under the program will cut the average daily population at Rikers — which is about 10,000 — by about 200. The decline is relatively low, they say, because a substantial percentage of the Rikers population is made up of inmates jailed on violent crime charges who would not be eligible for supervised release.

About 45,000 defendants a year are held on bail across the city’s five boroughs, officials said.

Councilman Rory Lancman, a Democrat from Queens and a supporter of the changes, said reducing the reliance on money bails was the “the holy grail of reducing the population at Rikers Island.”

The oversight that comes with a supervised release would vary by individual, officials said. For some defendants, it could be text messages or phone calls reminding them of their court appearances, while others would have in-person visits.

Some legal advocates said they worried judges could put defendants who might otherwise be released on their own recognizance in the supervised program.

Proponents of the plan said it would be an option for judges in cases where a defendant without the ability to pay would lose access to work, school and their families — “the kinds of enduring factors that ensure people don’t offend” while awaiting trial, said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

“It’s important people maintain those connections to the extent possible,” Ms. Glazer said.

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense practice at the Legal Aid Society, said she would assess the initiative’s performance by how many of the defendants avoided the hardships of extended stints in jail.

“That’s the success, the true success — diverting as many people off Rikers Island as possible,” she said.