Citing technological issues, New York City officials say the planned release of an online system to pay bail will be postponed until at least April 2018, a year later than originally planned.
Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, told a New York City Council committee during a hearing Monday—included in an update on efforts to reduce the prisoner population on Rikers Island and eventually closing the sprawling facility—that implementing the system for paying bail online required modernization of computer systems within the Department of Correction.
“It was like opening the hood of a car and finding everything else needs to be fixed,” Glazer said to members of the council’s Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services.
Councilman Rory Lancman, D-Queens, who serves on the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, issued a statement following the hearing blasting the timeline for implementing the online bail pay system.
“Too many New Yorkers are stuck on Rikers Island solely because the process to pay bail is such a nightmare,” Lancman said. “The city’s inability to bring the bail payment process into the 21st century is only adding to the problem of unnecessary and expensive incarceration.”
Patrick Gallahue, a spokesman for the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, said in an email that setting up the new system required updating an “antiquated system that suffered through lengthy periods of underinvestment by prior administrations.”
Gallahue also said that there were delays in selecting a contractor to establish the new system because the city received more bids than expected. As part of the system, the city plans to establish kiosks in each of the five boroughs to allow people who do not have internet access at home to make bail payments.
For the past several years, many elected leaders in New York City have made calls to limit or completely eliminate the use of cash bail, arguing that it effectively criminalizes poverty.
The new system was first announced in November 2016 and was expected to be operational by this past spring.
Defendants are not allowed to bring their wallets to arraignments and must rely on friends or family members to be present with cash on hand if they want to avoid being put in jail.
Otherwise, bail money must be paid in-person at Rikers or at detention centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
About one in 10 defendants are able to pay on time to avoid a jail stay, according to a landmark report by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform.
On any given day, the commission’s report stated, about 75 percent of the 9,700 prisoners in city jail facilities are being held there because they cannot afford bail.
The commission, chaired by former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who is now of counsel to Latham & Watkins, recommended the gradual closure of the 10 jail facilities on Rikers and instead housing the city’s prisoners in borough-based facilities.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the city council have put their support behind the proposal to close Rikers.
In June, the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice released its own roadmap to reduce the city’s jail population that contains proposals for measure to reduce the population by 25 percent over five years, to 7,000.
“While ‘Close Rikers’ has become a convenient moniker, it masks the seismic system change that must happen to achieve that one goal,” Glazer said at the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee meeting on Monday.
But Lippman, who also testified at the hearing, said the city should act with more urgency to reduce the population, such as by expanding supervised release programs, and noted that his commission has called for lowering it to 5,000 and that there is broad-based political support for taking prisoners off of Rikers.
“If we’re not going to break bones, if we’re not going to do strong things, if we’re not going to have political courage, we could lose all of [it] and it becomes another one of those things that goes on and on while we talk and talk and talk,” Lippman said.