By Rory I. Lancman
The process of paying bail in New York City is a nightmare. It is a tangled mess of outdated technology and bureaucratic red tape that actively undermines our justice system. We routinely hear stories of individuals who spend extra time on Rikers Island for no good reason.
That is a complete disgrace. New York City is failing these people.
Earlier this month, Council Member Keith Powers and I convened a joint hearing on the difficulties of posting bail and the countless delays that stand between accused individuals and their freedom. We focused the hearing specifically on how the city was failing to comply with a series of bail reform laws passed by the City Council last year.
The Council’s laws were specifically designed to prevent unnecessary incarceration and simplify the bail payment process. These included legislation I sponsored to require the NYPD to give people the opportunity to get contact information off their phones after they have been arrested, just in case they need help paying bail.
It was profoundly disappointing to hear reports from advocates and public defenders that the city has failed to implement these laws. The Bronx Freedom Fund found that most of their surveyed clients were still in custody, awaiting release more than 3 hours after their bail was paid, despite the law requiring them to be set free in that time, and that most did not receive the legally mandated information about bail payment options.
Notably, the Bronx Freedom Fund reported that 70 percent of their clients were not granted access to their contact information while in NYPD custody, as my law requires.
Based on this information, along with additional testimony, it is clear that the city is not taking the implementation of these laws seriously. We demanded answers from both the Department of Correction and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice about what has gone wrong, and what needs to be done to bring the city into compliance.
The impact of the city’s failure is profound for people unnecessarily stuck on Rikers Island for hours, days or weeks: time away from family and loved ones; jeopardizing employment or housing. And for taxpayers, unnecessary incarceration is a waste of valuable public resources.
It is enormously frustrating to see the city drag its feet on the implementation of these important bail reform bills, but we will continue to push the administration for answers in order to ensure full compliance with the law.
The city’s inability to fix the basics with bail or make improvements as required by the City Council are self-inflicted wounds. The city certainly can improve the system if we have the will to do so.
City Councilman Rory I. Lancman