The New York City Council announced Tuesday its passage of legislation that will require the city Department of Correction to inform those behind bars and their lawyers when the person detained is there solely because they owe a $1 bail or some amount less than $10.
The legislation passage comes less than two weeks after state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to a state budget that includes sweeping reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, including an end to cash bail for most criminal charges.
Council Member Rory Lancman, a Democrat who represents the 24th District, covering parts of Queens, introduced the legislation, Intro. 944, in an effort to tackle what he called in a City Council news release Tuesday “part of the nightmare of cash bail.”
“We’ve heard too many horror stories of people stuck on Rikers Island because of confusion or a communication breakdown over $1 bail—and that ends today,” Lancman also said in his statement.
The news release further pointed to a DOC report that said 149 individuals were held on $1 bail from August 2018 through December 2018.
In addition, it explained that $1 bail is set when a criminal defendant has at least one other case pending that would keep him or her from being released. The $1 bail serves as an accounting mechanism to ensure that the person gets credit for all time they serve in a city jail, the council said.
Then they added that the DOC’s failure to communicate with both jailed defendants and their lawyers “has led to unnecessary and expensive incarceration.”
The council further noted in the news release that “public defenders [had] testified to the City Council that the process to release individuals—after $1 bail has been paid—is littered with delays that can take hours.”
The City Council’s news release also stated that New York City had “claimed that it created ‘a $1 bail alert to notify both court personnel and the defense attorney when a defendant may be held solely due to $1 bail,’” but, the council continued, “the $1 bail alert the city was touting was not actually operational, and, as DOC testified in December 2018, only incarcerated individuals were being notified about $1 bail.”
The new legislation “will significantly enhance communication and implement a new structure for $1 bail,” the council added.
Elena Weissmann, director at The Bronx Freedom Fund, said in the statement, “For New Yorkers to languish in jail on $1 is unconscionable. The fact that we’re still trying to work around the $1 bail issue so low-income New Yorkers are not needlessly incarcerated pretrial, highlights the absurdity of the larger cash bail system.”
Added Amanda Lawson, founding director of the Dollar Bail Brigade, “Our movement of nearly 1,000 New Yorkers, who have been moved by the urgency of this issue to give their time and energy to posting these $1 bails and getting our neighbors out of pretrial jail cells, represents a widespread recognition of the inherent injustices of bail and pretrial detention and the need for change.”