September 9th Bail Briefing

On September 9th, 2016 the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund gave a presentation to NYJJI at the JM Kaplan Fund. We had 16 attendees who enriched the conversation on the issue that high bail raises and how bail funds can play a pivotal role.

Brooklyn Community Bail Fund has existed for the past year and a half and in that time they have had 850 clients. By May 2016, 19% of their clients were youth (between ages of 16-24) and 90% were people of color. 95% of their clients return to court for their court dates.  In this time, they have found that their clients are two times more likely to receive dismissals and violations than their similar counterparts.

In New York City, 33,000 people get bail within a few days (1-3) but if they are unable to do so, they can spend 80-90 more days in jail. 80% of defendants are released with bail. For example, a client arrested for hopping the turnstile can generally be given a $250 bail. There are on average 10,000 clients a year in New York that cannot pay a $250 bail or under.

Nearly 40% of the people at Rikers are pretrial detainees who cannot afford bail. Over 70% of detainees have been accused of non-violent, non-weapons related charges, such as turnstile jumping, shoplifting or trespassing.

The Brooklyn Community Bail Fund acknowledged that they are not a solution to our current bail system, rather a stop gap measure. It is important that bail funds are not normalized but instead we need to push for system change. Another similar fund is the Bronx Freedom Fund.

The kind of system change BCBF would like to see would include 1) simply applying the law correctly – if there is a presumption of innocence there should be no need to post bail. Nationally, 90% of judges were trained by and come out of the District Attorneys office. 2) Judges can rely on different types of bail such as T-Bonds, Surety, and unsecure bonds. 3) Using different validates risk assessments. Currently the risk assessment used are highly secretive but proven to be biased and racist. For example, a person under 21 years old automatically loses 4 points under the court assessment process.

BCBF is also growing to provide technical assistance to forming bail funds across the country. They identified some other funding needs as strategic expansion into specific affected communities or specific populations such as pre-trial detainees.  Their holistic-approach to bail funds requires a designated staff person to connect clients to the services they need. The person who fills this role currently was formerly incarcerated. BCBF would also like to hire a designated staff person to collect and analyze data. Currently they have 5 intake reps at court and partner with public defender offices.