Thousands of people are spending weeks, months, even years in Rikers in New York City for non-violent crimes, just because they couldn't pay their bail.
According to the New York Criminal Justice Agency, only 12 percent of defendants in New York City can pay bail. As part of a growing movement calling for bail reform after Kalief Browder's suicide, New York City recently announced that its judges will start offering bail alternatives to certain offenders.
The Sad Story of Kalief Browder
Five years ago, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested for robbery after he allegedly stole a backpack. The judge in his case ordered $3,000 bail, which his mother couldn't pay. So, Browder was sent to Rikers Island to await trial.
Rikers is home to more than 10,000 inmates. While there, Browder was attacked and beaten by both guards and fellow inmates. In addition to regular beatings, Browder suffered starvation and long spans of solitary confinement. At least six times during his stay, Browder attempted suicide. When offered a plea deal that would allow him to leave Rikers the same day, Browder maintained his innocence and refused to plead guilty.
After three years at Rikers, prosecutors finally dismissed the burglary charges against Browder when they lost track of the supposed victim in the case.
Browder left Rikers traumatized. At only 22 years old, he committed suicide.
Bail Reform for Low-Risk Defendants
Browder's tragic death was the impetus of New York City's attempts to reform its bail system.
The city's $18 million plan will allow judges to release low-risk defendants with supervision options such as daily check-ins, text message reminders, and drug or behavioral therapy. Some critics of the plan claim that supervised release is a public-safety risk. An NYPD official told the New York Post that "someone will get out without bail, and he's going to wind up killing someone."
However, the supervised-release program is aimed at nonviolent, low-risk offenders only. In an already-existing city pilot program, 1,100 people are have been granted supervised relief, and 87 percent have shown up to court when required without incident.
When the plan goes into effect, about 3,000 defendants charged with misdemeanors or non-violent felonies will bypass bail and be granted supervised relief instead. However, it is still unclear when the program will be implemented.