Finally, after almost three years of work, the New York State Legislature has passed our bill allowing charitable bail funds. This is a big step toward alleviating one of the more tragic consequences of poverty in the criminal justice system–being forced to plead guilty because you can’t afford bail.
As the Wall Street Journal explains:
New York has enacted a new law authorizing charities to post bail of up to $2,000 for those charged with misdemeanors and unable to come up with the money.
Actually, I think David Feige and WSJ are both burying the bigger story. A better lede would have been, “Up until now, New York has demonstrated inexplicable cruelty by preventing charities from posting bail for people accused of crimes.”
Still, this is a good thing. Too many poor people accused of relatively trivial crimes spend months in jail awaiting trial because they cannot afford bail of $1000 or even $500. Then they take the first plea offer that gets them out of jail, not because they think it’s fair, but because they simply want to get out of the cage.
Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t really understand why we have such strict bond requirements for minor crimes. If somebody is accused of committing a crime that everybody knows won’t draw jail time and they have no history, why not release them on their own recognizance and see what happens? If they show up for their next court date, great, now they’ve established a history of making court dates, so there’s even less need for bail in the future. And if they don’t show up, well, they probably wouldn’t have gone to jail anyway, so it’s not a big loss, and now you know to hold them on a bond the next time.
From the WSJ article:
The measure, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Wednesday, will take effect in 90 days. He called it “unacceptable” for defendants to have to spend jail time for low-level crimes they may not have committed because they can’t meet the bail requirement.
Wait a minute. Maybe a better lede for this story would have been, “New York Governor and state legislature shake down charities by throwing people in jail to await trial for minor crimes.” After all, if it’s unacceptable for defendants to have to post bail in these situations, isn’t that the fault of the legislature in the first place?