Too Poor to Raise Bail, 100,000 New Yorkers Sent Behind Bars

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Photo by Payton Chung via Flickr

A report by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) found that in eight of New York’s 62 counties, some 100,000 people spent time in jail between 2010 and 2014 because they couldn’t afford cash bail; and of these pretrial detainees, over 60 percent were charged with misdemeanors or violations.

The report, entitled Presumed Innocent for a Price, sheds some light on who’s been doing time in New York’s county jails because they can’t pay cash bail.

Until now, “the scope of the state bail problem outside of New York City has not been well understood,” said the report, released Tuesday.

The report was released ahead of Wednesday’s “day of action” in the state capital, where several organizations are gathering “to advocate for comprehensive criminal justice reforms, including fixes to New York’s bail, speedy trial and evidence-sharing practices,” writes the NYCLU.

Using records obtained through public record requests, the NYCLU analyzed bail data from eight small, medium and large counties in the state.

More than 5,800 New Yorkers were held on bail for violations only, most commonly for harassment, disorderly conduct, or trespassing. 41 percent of detainees charged with one of these violations were held on bail that exceeded the maximum fine they could be required to pay if found guilty.

According to the report, white defendants were more than two times more likely to be released on the same day bail was set than black defendants.

“While black and white New Yorkers each accounted for 45 percent of pretrial detainees who spent any time in custody after bail was set in their case, 48 percent of those who spent at least one night in custody were black compared to 41 percent white, and 50 percent of those who spent at least one week in custody were black compared to 38 percent white,” the study said.

NYCLU data was collected from Albany, Dutchess, Monroe, Niagara, Orange, Schenectady, Ulster, and Westchester counties.

This summary was prepared by TCR Deputy Editor Victoria Mckenzie. Readers’ comments are welcome.

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