NYC Prosecutors Accidentally Admit They Use Bail To Deprive Presumably-Innocent People Of Their Freedom
from the gov't-getting-sick-of-whatever-justice-actually-remains-in-the-justice-syste dept
New York City’s prosecutors just admitted they use the bail system to punish people for being accused of criminal acts. It’s not there to serve its intended purpose: to ensure the return of charged individuals to court, where they’re presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The bail system isn’t supposed to keep people locked up. But that’s the way it’s been used for years. Prosecutors often ask for excessive bail amounts. Judges often grant them. The argument made for high bail amounts — which ensure only the most well-to-do can remain free while awaiting trial — is that arrested people are flight risks and/or more inherently dangerous than all the people the police haven’t gotten around to arresting yet.
The stats don’t back up the parade of horribles offered by prosecutors at bail hearings. People have done the math. And this excellent article by the Boston Review compiles the damning numbers.
Statistical studies have continually shown that these concerns are exaggerated; the vast majority of people who are arrested and then make bail do not commit violent crimes while their cases are pending. In fact, according to a study by New York City’s Criminal Justice Agency, only 3 percent of “at risk” defendants who make bail are even arrested (let alone convicted) for a violent crime while their initial cases are pending. Similarly, a recent study by the Vera Institute of Justice tracked more than fifty people who were released from court in New York City without having to pay their entire bail—only two were rearrested on a new violent felony charge over the following year.
There goes the “public safety” argument. High bails are supposedly needed because presumptively innocent people are inveterate criminals prone to committing crime after crime until their return to court.
And here comes the “public safety” argument, inadvertently highlighting prosecutors’ bail-based bullshit. Grassroot groups, led by RFK Human Rights, are posting bail for hundreds of incarcerated suspects. Money has been raised to post bail for “every woman, sixteen- and seventeen- year-old” currently housed in a NYC jail. The parade of horribles is back and it shows the government isn’t interested in allowing the bail system to, you know, work.
[W]hat the reaction to the Mass Bailout shows, in stark contrast, is that the DAs use bail money for very different purposes than it was designed for. They request these bails ostensibly to ensure the accused show up to court; yet now that they are actually being posted, the DAs are crying foul and warning that freeing the accused will endanger “public safety.” They are therefore admitting what so many in affected communities already know to be true: that money bail routinely—and illegally—is set too high for poor defendants to afford, solely for the improper purpose of keeping them in jail before trial.
This isn’t just bad optics by the DAs. This is also illegal. The sole purpose of bail, according to New York law, is to ensure the return of the accused to court. It cannot be used to lock accused suspects up for “public safety” reasons. But this reaction by city prosecutors makes it clear they believe they can use the system the way the law says they can’t. And this reaction — as bad and as unlawful as it is — will probably be replicated anywhere bail relief efforts/bail reforms are deployed.
This just drives the point home that one-half of the justice system gives zero fucks about justice, due process, or any other safeguards erected against government power over the years. All they want is to lock people up and keep them locked up, even if they’ve never received their day in court.