NEW YORK – The New York City Council today passed Council Member Lancman’s legislation, Intro. 944, to require the Department of Correction (DOC) to notify eligible incarcerated individuals and their legal representatives when such individuals are detained solely because of $1 bail, or a total bail amount lower than $10.
Lancman’s legislation mandates that DOC produce a list of incarcerated individuals who are held solely due to a bail amount lower than $10 once before noon and once after noon every day of the week. DOC must notify eligible individuals three hours after the list has been generated, and attempt to contact legal representation within ninety minutes.
DOC reported that 149 individuals were held on $1 bail from August 2018 through December 2018.
“$1 bail is part of the nightmare of cash bail,” said Council Member Rory Lancman. “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. My bill will ensure that the Department of Correction is promptly communicating with defendants detained solely for $1 bail and their attorneys to help reduce the unnecessary incarceration.”
“The Bronx Freedom Fund sees the devastating consequences of our money bail system every day. 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. With this bill, the City Council is taking a concrete step to alleviate human suffering caused by the current policies. We commend council members for taking action,” said Elena Weissmann, Director at the Bronx Freedom Fund.
“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. We commend action by the City Council in alleviating some of the suffering and delays created by the current policies, and look forward to future collaboration on the kind of reform that would make our direct action no longer necessary,” said Amanda Lawson, Founding Director of the Dollar Bail Brigade.
$1 bail is set when a defendant has at least one other pending case that would prevent them from being released. The $1 bail acts as an accounting mechanism to ensure that the individual is given credit for all time they serve in a City jail.
However, DOC’s failure to communicate with both incarcerated individuals and defense attorneys has led to unnecessary and expensive incarceration. The Center for Court Innovation in December 2015 reported that “the potential perverse result [of dollar bail], as stakeholders explained, is that defendants or their families or friends pay the larger bail, are unaware of the $1 bail, and defendants continue to be held on what is essentially an administratively driven bail amount.” Public defenders 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 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.” However, 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. Lancman’s legislation will significantly enhance communication and implement a new structure for $1 bail.