The New York governor’s proposal addresses several aspects of the criminal justice system critics have long decried as unfair to the poor, among them the state’s cash bail system and its restrictive discovery law, which allows prosecutors to withhold important evidence against a defendant until the eve of trial.
The Buckeye Institute released a report contending that the practice of requiring defendants to post money in order to secure their release from jail is an “inefficient, expensive, unfair means of protecting communities that has proven no guarantee to stopping repeat offenders.”
The four-year study, by the “Million Dollars Hoods” project at UCLA’s Bunche Center, reports the nearly $194 million actually paid in bond sureties disproportionately affected individuals in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Some 223,000 who couldn’t pay were held before trial.
When a federal judge ruled that Houston’s Harris County wrongfully held poor misdemeanor defendants in jail while awaiting trial, she placed the responsibility for issuing bail orders in the unpracticed hands of the county sheriff’s office. The county courts, which usually make bail decisions, have focused their efforts on their own reforms. That combination has led to confusion within the state’s largest pretrial system.
Public defenders plan case-by-case appeals of judges’ routine decisions to jail defendant who can’t afford to pay for release pending trial. They contend that thousands of suspects are jailed unnecessarily for weeks, months, and sometimes years.
The sponsors of the New York-based initiative are asking volunteers to use their spare computer power to “mine” the digital currency known as Monero, which will then be used to bail the poor out of jail.
A Bronx-based organization has raised $30 million to take its bail advocacy nationwide. The Bail Project is scheduled to open offices in St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla., in January and spread to more than three dozen cities in the next five years.
The rate of pretrial releases has risen since the city’s courts have been using a risk-assessment tool, but some of reformer DA George Gascón’s assistants still are insisting on defendants’ being held on cash bail.