Thousands of defendants who are suspected of committing minor and low-level crimes in New York City will soon be released from custody without having to post bail under a plan to lower the number of inmates in the city’s perpetually overcrowded jail system. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last July a $17.8 million plan that will allow New York City judges starting in 2016 to substitute bail with a modernized supervision system for an estimated three thousand low-risk suspects. The supervision of these defendants would include daily check-ins, text message notices, and referring suspects to drug counseling and behavioral treatment resources. When you’ve been charged with a crime, being held in custody before your trial can mean more than simple aggravation or apprehension. For lower-income people in New York City and elsewhere in the United States, waiting in jail for a trial can lead directly to serious financial hardship. You could conceivably lose your job – or lose at least a number of days’ wages – over a crime that you perhaps did not even commit.

WHAT IS PRE-TRIAL INCARCERATION?

When people do not have the financial resources to post the bail amount needed to secure their release, in New York City and in other U.S. cities they may be held in custody for days or even weeks prior to a trial. It is exactly this kind of pre-trial incarceration that Mayor de Blasio’s new initiative plans to reduce in the nation’s largest city. According to the plan as it was unveiled in July 2015, the city will reduce the number of defendants who are in city jails and awaiting trial because they cannot make bail. The arrest process in New York City currently works like this:

  • An officer may arrest you for an offense or on suspicion of committing an offense.
  • A bail amount may be set at your first appearance in court.
  • If you post bail, you are released from custody until your trial begins.
  • If you cannot post bail, you may be held in custody until your trial date.

About 41 percent of the criminal defendants moving through New York City’s criminal justice system each year are released on their own recognizance, and another 14 percent, or about 45,500 people, are held on bail, authorities said. Studies have shown that poor and minority suspects accused of low-level crimes are more likely to get stuck in jail because they can’t afford to post even small amounts of bail money. Mayor de Blasio told the Daily News, “That is unacceptable. If people can be safely supervised in the community, they should be allowed to remain there regardless of their ability to pay.”

Thousands of people are held for days and sometimes weeks before trials in New York City and other cities. Those who cannot even afford bail are already in a quite precarious financial position, so obviously those people suffer the most. They miss time from work, which means even more losses, and they often hold the kinds of jobs where they have little recourse if they are terminated. Look at yourself, for example. Very few of us could call the boss and retain our jobs after explaining that we’ll be out a few days while sitting in a jail and awaiting trial on a criminal charge.

New York criminal defense attorney

WHAT IS THE PRE-TRIAL INCARCERATION INITIATIVE?

It is precisely to reduce pre-trial incarceration that Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced the pre-trial incarceration initiative. The initiative is called “Supervised Release,” and under the project as many 3,400 defendants who qualify are being released from custody in New York City in 2016. Those who are employed will thus be allowed to return to their jobs even if they cannot afford to post bail after their arrest. It may not seem like much, but a New York criminal defense attorney representing these defendants will assure you that Supervised Release means a huge burden lifted off the shoulders of thousands every year. The initiative aims to target low-income defendants accused of trivial and minor offenses that do not include personal injury. Fresno personal injury lawyers Nadrich & Cohen believe this makes perfect sense not only in state legal systems but on a federal level. These defendants are legally innocent until they are proven guilty. The Supervised Release program will have no impact on those who have been denied bail because they are charged with committing violent crimes. Participants in the Supervised Release program are defendants who would have posted bail anyway if they could afford to, so Supervised Release is designed to add no additional risk to the general public’s safety.

In fact, Supervised Release may even provide an added benefit to the general public’s long-term safety. Evidence from a number of research studies indicates that incarceration alongside hardened criminals can actually be counterproductive for those persons who have entered jail for only a minor violation. A minor offender exposed to hardened criminal influences may actually exit the system posing a much more significant risk to the public’s safety than when he or she entered the system in the first place. The New York City initiative to reduce the rates of pre-trial incarceration is an interesting and hopeful fresh approach. It’s time. For most defendants, being held in custody has virtually nothing to do with the seriousness of the charges against them and has far more to do with their personal financial resources.

HOW THE INITIATIVE WILL HELP

According to New York Police Department statistics, every year, approximately 45,000 people in New York City are detained on criminal charges. Many of these defendants have been arrested for violent crimes, but many more individuals are arrested and continue to be detained in jail only because they are unable to post bail after being charged with a minor offense. A bail amount that might be low for many of us can be far too high for others, and these others are precisely the people that the Supervised Release initiative hopes to assist. Authorities will use a “validated risk assessment tool” to determine if an individual poses any threat to the public’s safety if that individual is released. Defendants who are not considered a threat to the public’s safety may be eligible for Supervised Release while awaiting trial.

Surprisingly, critics of the Supervised Release program include a number of civil rights activists. Civil rights groups have identified several problems with several aspects of the Supervised Release program. For example, Supervised Release imposes a variety of conditions on the defendants who are chosen to participate. When defendants have been released pending a trial date under Supervised Release, they must continue to check in every day and to respond to text messages as part of the terms of their release. They are kept under supervision that resembles formal probation even though they are innocent until proven guilty and have not been convicted of a crime. In the case of defendants who have been arrested for particular types of offenses, the Supervised Release program will refer them to whatever drug treatment, alcohol treatment, or behavioral counseling is needed or deemed most appropriate.

New York criminal defense attorney

WHO IS LIKELY TO BE HELPED?

If you are arrested and charged with committing a minor offense in New York City, and you cannot afford to post bail, your qualifications to participate in the Supervised Release program hinge on two factors: your financial inability to post bail and the determination as to whether or not you are a risk to the public’s safety. If you are arrested for a serious crime, a violent crime, or any weapons-related crime, you are unlikely to qualify for release under the Supervised Release initiative.

The Supervised Release pretrial incarceration initiative will operate on the presumption that a person who has committed a lower-level criminal offense and poses no threat to public safety can safely return home, continue to earn an income, and keep his or her job. Allowing defendants these privileges actually reduces a person’s chances of becoming a hardened criminal or a risk to the public. The person who continues to be detained, who loses his or her job, and who is exposed to career criminals is more likely rather than less likely to continue criminal behavior and pose a risk to the public. Financial concerns and the continued economic insecurity of some defendants are at the core of the New York City initiative. According to supporters of the Supervised Release program, expanding the rights of defendants will actually enhance the public’s safety.

The initiative begins in New York City in 2016, and the city expects that it will spend $17 8 million and supervise more than three thousand defendants. While the Supervised Release pretrial incarceration initiative may not fix all of the problems with New York’s criminal justice system, the initiative will surely provide some hope and relief to persons who otherwise would have faced unemployment and unnecessary time in jail. If you are charged with any crime in any part of the United States, contact a good defense lawyer at once. Whether you’re wealthy or poor, released on your own recognizance or held in custody, you’ll need the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer who knows the court system in your jurisdiction and who will advocate aggressively on your behalf. If you are charged with a crime in the state of New York, speak with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney immediately.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

Comments are closed.