Legal Aid Society


New Yorkers Who Make Bail Still Suffer Wrongful Incarceration

The Bronx Freedom Fund (BFF) and The Legal Aid Society (LAS) released a report today on the New York City Department of Correction’s (DOC) continued failure to comply with recently enacted bail reforms, specifically Int. No. 1531A – legislation which mandates the Department to release individuals from custody who make bail within three hours or less.

Since the law’s passage, roughly 12 percent of the Bronx Freedom Fund’s clients have been released in compliance with the law. A recent six month audit of BFF and LAS client release times in the Bronx and Queens for January 1, 2019 – June 30, 2019 revealed a mean wait time after posting bail of 6 hours and 52 minutes, and a median of 5 hours and 11 minutes – which still does not comply with the times set forth by the new laws. Of the 205 clients bailed out from jail facilities during this period, only 25 were released within the requisite three-hour window.

Of the 180 clients released more than three hours after bail was posted, 58 were released after a period of more than seven hours, 24 were released more than ten hours after bail was posted; 14 people were detained for more than fifteen hours after bail was posted; and dozens were jailed overnight, despite having posted bail during business hours of the previous day.

One of these clients was released at one o’clock in the morning into freezing temperatures, nine hours after he had posted bail the prior afternoon. He had recently obtained stable employment and was living in a shelter; he was unable to check in with either his shelter or his employer. This delayed release of just one night in jail thus resulted in him losing both his job and his shelter bed. While his release was being processed, he spent hours in a crowded intake cell with no access to food or water. “They treat us like dogs,” he said. “Just let us go.”

Based on Legal Aid Society data, hundreds of legally innocent New Yorkers are subjected to these illegal delays each month.

BFF and LAS first publically raised this issue last November, which prompted a City Council hearing on DOC’s compliance with the reforms. The City Council’s Oversight and Investigations Unit also released a scathing report in April on the DOC’s failure to implement the new measures.

BFF and LAS will continue to issue these reports on a monthly basis until the Department comes in full compliance with the new laws, which were meant to modernize New York City’s antiquated and broken bail system.

“The Department of Correction is not only flouting local law by keeping people in jail long after their bail has been paid; their neglect is harming low-income New Yorkers every single day. It’s been nearly two years of rampant noncompliance. This is unacceptable,” said Elena Weissmann, Director of The Bronx Freedom Fund. “The Administration’s continued refusal to comply with these reforms hurts our clients and their families on a daily basis. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the rest of City Hall must fix this at once.”

“Audit after audit continues to reveal that DOC is still wildly out of compliance with some of New York City’s most important recent bail reforms,” said Elizabeth Bender, Staff Attorney with the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. “If Mayor Bill de Blasio is serious about fast-tracking the closure of Rikers Island, this starts with reducing the jail’s pretrial detention population. We need City Hall to better focus on DOC’s compliance with these crucial reforms. No one is above the law.”

Read the full report (PDF).