CITY HALL– Today, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced a package of legislation that will ensure that inmates are not brought to court in DOC uniforms, provide inmate transportation to all criminal court appearances, and allow for the return of bail fees collected by the City if an inmate makes their court appearances.

The package is part of a long line of criminal justice reforms created by the City Council, which have included legislation transforming the way in which NYPD enforces low-level, non-violent offenses, creating the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform and enacting a series of laws promoting transparency at the DOC, NYPD, and Department of Probation.

“It is important that New Yorkers who are unable to afford bail are treated equally to those with more financial resources,” said Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. “This legislation will ensure that those New Yorkers too poor to afford bail are not prejudiced or stigmatized for being incarcerated, increase speedy trials within the court system, and help family members so they aren’t needlessly taxed for posting bail when a defendant makes all their court appearances.”

The legislative package will achieve the following:

  • DOC uniforms, prejudice in court and inmate release: The proposed legislation would ensure that inmates are produced at court appearances in their personal clothing, as opposed to a DOC uniform.

Within the past year, the DOC has begun housing inmates in DOC uniforms to help stem gang violence. We continue to support this uniform policy within DOC correctional facilities. Unfortunately, there is a problem when DOC brings inmates to court appearances in these uniforms. The policy is supposed to be that inmates are not produced in court in a uniform if they are on trial or testifying before the grand jury. However, advocates have reported that inmates testify in grand jury appearances in DOC uniforms. This is unfair to these inmates, the vast majority of whom are forced to testify in a DOC uniform solely because they are too poor to afford bail.

Furthermore, a significant number of these inmates (estimates of over 100 per day) are released during these court appearances. These people – many of whom were only pretrial detainees whose cases were dismissed – are released onto the streets of New York in a thin piece of clothing that is quite evidently a jail uniform, even in the wintertime.

  • Court appearances and efficient judicial processes: The proposed legislation would ensure that DOC transports inmates to all of their criminal court appearances. Currently DOC ensures that inmates make court appearances for the offense they are in custody for, but not other court dates they may have for unrelated cases. This causes a massive amount of delay within the court system and may affect speedy trial. Also, inmates may miss out on jail time credit to which they are entitled, and spend more time in custody because of this.
  • Restitution of bail fees: The proposed legislation would ensure that the City returns the 3% bail fee it collects when an inmate makes their court appearances. Currently the City collects a 3% fee for processing cash bail. If someone makes their court appearances, the fee is returned to those who posted the bail, except in the case where an individual is convicted of any offense, including non-criminal offenses. Those posting bail (most often family members) should not have to pay a fee if an individual shows up in court – which is what bail is meant to ensure.

“The presumption of innocence must mean that you’re actually treated as such until proven guilty. But for low-income New Yorkers, the opposite is often the case during any kind of involvement in the criminal justice system. We commend Melissa Mark-Viverito for introducing practical legislation to help ensure all New Yorkers are treated with the same consideration, dignity and respect during judicial proceedings,” said Justine Olderman of the Bronx Defenders.

“The passage of these three bills will ensure fairness and justice for incarcerated clients,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney in Charge, Criminal Defense Practice, The Legal Aid Society of New York. “LS 8928 and LS 8950 are welcome additions to the bail reform conversation in New York City, and should work to alleviate some of the substantial burden pre-trial incarceration often places on the poor. For years, many of our poorest clients have not only been forced to pay bail to buy their release from jail, but they have also been hit with a 3% fee for posting bail that is not returned. For those living paycheck to paycheck, or for those out of work, losing money for an administrative fee is simply an additional hardship that effectively criminalizes their poverty. Additionally, by mandating that DOC produce all individuals to every single one of their court dates, regardless of bail status or amount, LS 8950 ends the harmful situation where people languish needlessly at Rikers for technical issues such as $1. Finally, DOC’s  policy of bringing detained people to court in DOC jumpsuits instead of civilian clothing is highly prejudicial and degrading, delaying proceedings and a person’s release to the community.  LS 7772 ends this terrible practice and requires DOC to allow all detainees being brought to court access to civilian clothing and must cease bringing people to court in DOC jumpsuits. We thank Speaker Mark-Viverito and the New York City Council for making certain poverty does not stand in the way of justice and does not keep New Yorkers locked away.”