New York's bail reform legislation has fueled an unmanageable growth spurt in New York City's supervised release program, opening the program to more than just low-level offenses and overwhelming the social workers assigned to help people stay out of jail, show up for court and avoid rearrest while their charges are pending, Gothamist reports. Supervised release, which is now run through the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, began as a pilot program 14 years ago for minor crimes. But after New York state’s bail reform laws went into effect in 2020, limiting judges' ability to set cash bail, the program grew dramatically and opened up to anyone regardless of criminal charges. Today, people who are arrested are more than four times more likely to be released through supervised release compared to cash bail, according to data from the nonprofit Criminal Justice Agency. And supervised release no longer focuses on low-level offenders; the data shows most people in the program have felony charges, and more than a third are accused of violent felonies.
While supervised release has been successful in ensuring that people charged with low-level offenses return to court and avoid rearrest while keeping them out of the city's troubled Rikers Island jails, it has not done the same for those who repeatedly get arrested on charges involving violence. There’s no drug test and no ankle bracelet; instead, they come to one of four nonprofit agencies’ offices for a 45-minute assessment to talk about their needs, such as employment, education and treatment. They work with social workers and peer specialists, who have experience with the criminal justice and mental health systems, to get connected to services, which include everything from art therapy groups, anger management programs, substance abuse counseling and housing assistance. The spike in caseloads has social workers trying to aid those with deeper needs than the previous population — people with domestic violence arrests, complex mental health challenges and long histories of rearrests, according to Aubrey Fox, the Criminal Justice Agency's executive director. Those who run these programs are now hoping the city can provide more resources to supervise this population more intensely. They say that if bail reform is going to be successful in preserving public safety, then the city must figure out how to make supervised release successful for this group of people who keep getting arrested on serious charges.