Ear Hustle

NY Councilman Asks The Justice Department To Investigate Current Bail System That Keeps The Poor Locked Up When They Can’t Afford Bail

Councilman Rory I. Lancman said New York’s “failures mirror many of the concerns outlined by DOJ’s brief.”

A Queens City Councilman is asking the Justice Department to investigate New York’s bail system, after the feds claimed it’s unconstitutional to keep poor defendants in jail because they can’t pay afford to pay bail.

The DOJ filed a friend of the court brief in a Georgia case last week arguing that it was unlawful discrimination against the poor to keep a man arrested for walking while intoxicated locked up because he couldn’t pay the fixed $160 bail for the offense.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, Councilman Rory Lancman said the city’s bail policies have many of the same problems.

“Thousands of low-level indigent defendants spend time on Rikers Island for being unable to make bail of $1,000 or less,” he wrote. “Rikers Island is populated primarily by poor people being punished for their poverty.”

According to data provided at Council a hearing last year, 53% of people jailed at Rikers were there because they couldn’t pay bail. And 85% of non-felony defendants were unable to pay bail of $500 or less at arraignment, while 46% never made bail before their case was resolved.

New York does not have fixed bail amounts for certain offenses like the one challenged in the Georgia case, but DOJ’s brief appeared to take a broader stand, saying “meaningful consideration” must be given to the accused’s ability to pay.

“Bail practices that incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release violate the Fourteenth Amendment,” the brief said.

Lancman said New York’s “failures mirror many of the concerns outlined by DOJ’s brief.”

“As such, I respectfully request that DOJ conduct an investigation to determine whether bail and pretrial detention practices as applied to indigent defendants here in New York City violate the constitution, and if so to take such action as is necessary to effect remedial measures,” he wrote.


Source:  NY Daily News

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