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Is Bail Reform's Next Frontier Like NYC's Decade-Old System?

As the list grows of states that have used legislation to eliminate or restrict the use of cash bail for most offenses, the nation's largest city has honed a local system over the past decade that represents the forefront of America's efforts to reduce mass incarceration, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. At inception over a decade ago, New York City's $67 million-a-year program focused on nonviolent felony charges, seeking maximum impact for minimum risk, then gradually expanded its remit to include a range of misdemeanors. Now, it’s dipped more than a toe into cases that involve allegations of violent crime. As of April, the most recent data available, 1 in 5 of the 44,799 arrestees set free pending trial in New York City were part of the supervised release program, up from about 1 in 17 defendants on the eve of the pandemic. As of this spring, more than 8,500 people were out on supervised release, which means a variety of levels of check-in requirements and a range of classes and services, all provided by nonprofits working under the New York City Criminal Justice Agency.

Fewer than 10% of people out on supervised release in the city in a given month are rearrested while awaiting trial. Fewer than 2% are rearrested for violent felonies. The expansion into felony cases hasn’t led to spikes in violence or chaos in the streets. The system stands in contrast with the controversy surrounding New York state's legislated rollback of bail statewide, a reform that has backpedaled three times as law enforcement and politicians blame it for increased crime. Against this stormy backdrop, the CJA quietly goes about its work. But since going citywide in 2016, the system has come under increasing strain as caseloads regularly exceed caps and city leaders press for more diversions from jail to bring the jail population in line with a plan to close the massive Rikers Island jail complex and replace it with a network of smaller facilities. To help ease some of the strain, the New York City Council has apportioned an extra $31 million to be spread among the four providers. And another $5 million may go toward a more intensive program in which caseworkers with fewer clients spend more quality time with serial arrestees, especially those with violent convictions on their records.


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