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City expands bail alternative program to lower Rikers population

By Bill Parry

The city rolled out a $17.8 million expansion of the supervised release program for low-risk offenders last Friday which allows them to stay at home and continue working as they await trial. The supervisory program, which has been operating in Queens since 2009, enables judges to offer an alternative to cash bail and reduce the prison population on Rikers Island.

“No one should be in jail simply because they are unable to pay bail,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We are taking steps to ensure that people who can safely be supervised in the community are able to stay there, regardless of the size of their bank accounts.”

The citywide program will supervise 3,000 defendants who don’t pose a public safety risk. Each individual will receive phone calls or text message court reminders and be closely monitored by supervision providers such as The Criminal Justice Agency in Queens.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) introduced similar legislation in Albany in October that would reform the monetary bail system.

“Our bail system is broken and in desperate need of reform to make it fair for everyone, regardless of economic status,” Gianaris said. “The expansion of a citywide supervised release program is a good step in the right direction.”

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), the chairman of the Council’s Courts & Legal Services Committee, also called it a step in the right direction.

“Supervised release recognizes that poor defendants accused of low-level crimes do not need to be held in jail awaiting trial just because they can’t afford bail,” he said. “It’s good to see this available now to defendants in every borough.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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