NYC to Release More Teens Without Cash Bail

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Photo by Joshua Vaughn/The Sentinel.

More teens accused of serious felonies will be released from jail without requiring them to post money bail, under a New York City push to limit incarceration, says Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The policy, starting June 1, would affect hundreds of teens accused of serious crimes like assault, robbery, and burglary, allowing them to be eligible for release without bail, while they await adjudication, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The teens would be placed in the city’s Supervised Release Program. Social workers would supervise them in their communities, tell them of court dates, link them to services,  and direct them to therapy.

“We’ve had so many people who languished in jail because they couldn’t afford bail, and that was unfair,” said de Blasio, who characterized “mass incarceration” in New York City as “harmful to society and taxpayers.”

De Blasio is talking about people like Kalief Browder, who as a 16-year-old in 2010 stole a backpack and spent three years jailed on Rikers Island because his family couldn’t pay $3,000 in bail.

De Blasio is shrinking the number of people imprisoned as part of a plan to close New York City’s jail complex on Rikers Island by 2026.

Since taking office in 2014, he has reduced the number in city jails by 30 percent to 7,959 in December 2018. Among the changes are reducing the practice of cash bail and discouraging arrests for some low-level crimes, including minor drug possession.

Nearly 13,000 suspects have been sent into the Supervised Release Program since de Blasio expanded it in 2016.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice says participants in the program have similar outcomes to defendants released on recognizance. The new push to expand supervised release may add 1,000 to the program each year.

The Marshall Project reports that judges retain authority to make release decisions in each case. Judges have also begun to understand how frequent offenders often have mental-health and housing issues. Those struggles are often exacerbated by setting bail at a high cost and subsequently sending them to jail, said George A. Grasso, supervising judge of the Bronx Criminal Court and of all arrangements in New York City.

De Blasio’s changes were blasted by Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch, a long-time critic of de Blasio’s bail reforms. “Releasing teens who have committed armed robberies or serious assaults flies in the face of every police officer working to fight crime,” he said.

Overall, de Blasio says he is working hard to give teens a fair chance. He said these new bail reforms will create a fairer society and will ensure that teens, “are being redeemed, not just locked up.”

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