Bail relief overdue

By Rory I. Lancman

In November 2016, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city was planning to create an online bail payment system to make it easier for individuals and family members to post bail. These are individuals who a Court already deemed could be set free while awaiting trial, if they can come up with a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. The administration claimed that the system would be up and running by spring 2017.

This announcement was a big deal. The process of paying bail in New York State today is a Kafkaesque nightmare. It can take many hours, including long waits and travel times, for friends and family members to pay bail.

Our dreadful and inefficient process for paying bail has serious consequences. Every year in New York City, thousands of people, who have not been convicted of any crime, are stuck in jail solely because the process to pay bail is so cumbersome. For defendants, that means time away from their families, their job, and their community. For taxpayers, unnecessary incarceration is a tremendous waste of public funds. For society, keeping people behind bars when they do not have to be is one of the Scrooges of our justice system.

The creation of an online bail payment system would not fix every problem with bail in New York, but it would finally bring that process into the 21st century and help mitigate unnecessary and expensive incarceration. This is one area where the city has the power on its own to make important changes and take a critical step toward reducing the population at Rikers Island.

Yet for all the promise that an online bail payment system brings, the city has completely failed to make this innovation a reality.

The city’s original deadline of “spring 2017” came and went with no developments. In October 2017, the city said the online bail system would be up and running by the end of 2017. However, by December 2017, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice told me at a Committee hearing that the system would not be functional until April 2018.

Even if the city somehow meets its latest self-imposed deadline, the online bail payment system will not be available until a full year after originally promised. That is unacceptable.

Creating an online bail payment system is not rocket science. We can buy goods online. We can pay bills and parking tickets online. There is no reason why New Yorkers should not be able to pay bail online for their friends or loved ones too.

Guest Editorial written by Councilman Rory I. Lancman.

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