By Carlotta Mohamed
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) wants the city to install ATMs in all criminal courthouses where arraignments take place.
Lancman introduced the legislation for ATMs at a Council hearing May 9 to reform the process of bail payment which would reduce the population in jail, long lines and wait times for family members to pay.
“It is mind-boggling that the de Blasio administration could not do something as simple as install ATMs in every criminal courthouse,” said Lancman, chair of the Committee on the Justice System. “At a time when we are doing everything we can to reduce unnecessary incarceration, their incompetence made it more difficult for New Yorkers to pay bail in a timely manner. My bill will ensure that the city follows through on its promises.”
The New York Times had recently reported ATM machines were not installed, or inaccessible, at courthouses in three of the five boroughs. There are no ATMs in either the Bronx or Staten Island criminal court; and the ATM in Queens criminal court is not accessible after 5 p.m., even though arraignments run until 1 a.m.
“In the Bronx and Queens the ATMs were placed at locations within the courts that are inaccessible at night and will be moved to more suitable locations very soon,” said Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for the MOCJ. “Another is to be delivered to Staten Island as quickly as possible.”
According to the Center for Court Innovation 2015 report, “Navigating the Bail Payment System in New York City,” cash bail is difficult to gather in the short window available post-appearance, particularly at night and at courthouses with no on-site ATMs, which include courthouses in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Recommendation #2B in the report to “Establish easily accessible ATMs at the courthouses in all five boroughs of New York City to increase rapid access to cash from multiple sources.”
The Center for Court Innovation suggested allowing defendants to pay their own bail at the courthouse by installing “hand-held credit card machines in all the courtrooms, so that in-custody defendants with debit/credit cards could pay in the courtroom,” according to its study “Navigating the Bail Payment System in New York City.”Currently, defendants must remain in detention even if they have the means to pay the bail amount with their ATM cards or cash.
The city has advocated for an end to cash bail and has introduced a number of initiatives to mitigate the harms of the existing system until state legislation can abolish money bail for good, according to Gallahue.
The program is called the Online Bail Payment System , that allows bail to be paid without having to appear in court or at a detention facility. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration launched the program in April, to make it easier for New Yorkers to pay bail — including when a friend or relative cannot get to court or a Department of Correction facility to pay in person.Under the program, an online payment will be available for bail that a judge orders is eligible for credit card payment with a $2,500 cap. The city and Office of Court Administration (OCA) are working to lift the cap before the end of year to expand service to higher bail amounts.
The City Wide Bail Fund operates throughout the city to post bail for defendants with bail set at $2,000 and below, Gallahue said. Another initiative, Another initiative, The Bail Expediters program helps families pay bail before their relative goes to jail. The family members are then contacted notifying them when bail has been set, ensuring that defendants are held at the courthouse, so families can post bail.
“These interventions have helped reduce the number of people in custody by more than 20 percent since 2013, and the number of people held on bail of under $2,000 by around 60 percent, Gallahue said.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha