Legal Aid Calls for Reform of the Bail System, Citing Human and Financial Costs

Justine Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society, and William Gibney, Director of the Special Litigation Unit of the Criminal Practice, presented testimony on the need for reform of the bail system today before the New York City Council Committee on Courts and Legal Services and the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services.

The average daily cost of incarcerating someone in New York City is $571.27. "When the substantial financial costs of incarceration are added to the human costs associated with losing housing, employment, and benefits, the scope of the problem is clear, " the NYC Council was told. "We have become a system in which cash or insurance company bail bonds are the only two options prosecutors request and most judges set."

"Perhaps no single practice better illustrates the unfairness of monetary bail than the problems experienced trying to get someone released when the prisoner is held on $1 bail. The $1 bail is used by the defense in situations where the defendant has two cases and is unable to achieve release in one of them. Since the person is going to be incarcerated anyway, it makes sense to have the defendant detained on both cases so as to assure that the jail time credit will be applied to both cases. Unfortunately, frequently, when the other case is resolved and the only thing holding the defendant in jail is $1 bail, a good number of people cannot afford the $1. They languish in Rikers because they do not have $1. We should develop some form of administrative hold that allows jail time credit without the posting of bail."