Thousands of New Yorkers accused of low-level or non-violent crimes won't face the prospect of raising cash for bail under a plan that seeks to keep such suspects out of the troubled Rikers Island jail complex. The $18 million city plan, detailed to the AP ahead of the announcement today, allows judges beginning next year to replace bail for low-risk defendants with supervision options including daily check-ins, text-message reminders, and required drug or behavioral therapy. Bail has long been criticized by inmate advocates for unfairly targeting poor people. And reforms were recommended by a mayoral task force last year after the AP reported on the case of Jerome Murdough, a mentally ill homeless man who was unable to make $2,500 bail for trespassing and "basically baked to death" in a sweltering Rikers cell.
Currently, about 41% of criminal defendants who pass through NYC courts annually are released on their own recognizance, and another 14%, or 45,500 people, are held on bail. About 87% of the 1,100 people on supervised release in already-existing city pilot programs return to court when they're supposed to, officials say. Initial funding, provided by the Manhattan DA, allows for as many as 3,000 defendants charged with misdemeanors or non-violent felonies to bypass bail, letting them live with their families and keep their jobs while their cases wind through the courts. Officials say they'd like to expand the program to include thousands more. Releasing defendants to community supervision based on so-called risk-assessment tools that gauge a person's threat to public safety is increasingly done throughout the country. (Read more bail stories.)