Thousands of New Yorkers accused of low-level or non-violent crimes won’t face the prospect of raising cash for bail under a plan to keep them out of the troubled Rikers Island jail complex, reports the Associated Press. The $18 million plan announced today allows judges beginning next year to replace bail for low-risk defendants with supervision options, including daily check-ins, text-message reminders and connecting them with drug or behavioral therapy. Bail has long been criticized for unfairly targeting poor people. Reforms were recommended by a mayoral task-force after the AP reported on a mentally ill homeless man, unable to make $2,500 bail for trespassing, who died in a sweltering Rikers cell. Calls for reform gained traction after the suicide last month of Kalief Browder, 22. When he was 16, Browder was unable to make $3,000 bail on charges he stole a backpack. He ended up being held in Rikers for three years, beaten by inmates and guards alike and held in solitary confinement before charges were dropped.
“I think the basic principle is that Kalief Browder and other cases have begun to signify this (need for reform) in the public eye,” said Elizabeth Glazer, the mayor’s criminal justice coordinator. “We want to focus on risk to be the determining factor to decide if someone will be in or out; and it has to be risk, not money.” Currently, about 41 percent of criminal defendants who pass through New York City courts annually are released on their own recognizance and another 14 percent, or 45,500 people, are held on bail.