Can Alternatives to Money Bail Work?

Bail Alternatives

A New York City experiment suggests that bail methods which do not require paying large sums of money are a viable alternative to a system that is often skewed against the poor.

A report released Friday by the Vera Institute of Justice found that “partially secured and unsecured” bonds could be as effective in guaranteeing a person’s appearance at trial as traditional cash bail requirements that place an onerous burden on most defendants’ resources─often ensuring that low-income individuals are held in detention.

A report released Friday by the Vera Institute of Justice found that “partially secured and unsecured” bonds could be as effective in guaranteeing a person’s appearance at trial as traditional cash bail

“The findings tell an important story about the possibility of culture change in the use of bail in (New York City) criminal courts, and demonstrate the potential of alternative forms of bail to serve as one more tool to make the current bail system fairer,” said Insha Rahman, a senior planner at Vera and author of the report.

Rahman traced the outcome of 99 cases over nine to 12 months where defendants were allowed to pay a refundable 10 percent or less of the bail amount set by judges (partially secured bonds) or no upfront payment at all. Judges and defense attorneys were trained on the paperwork involved.

The alternative bail experiment was applied to both low-level offenses and serious felony cases involving charges ranging from drug possession to assault.

According to the findings, individuals released under the two bond procedures had an appearance rate of 88 percent, and a rate of pretrial re-arrest for new felony offenses of just 8 per cent.

And pretrial release also resulted in a resolution of the cases that involved a less serious charge than applied at the initial arraignment.

One-third of the cases ended in dismissal altogether, and another 20 percent ended in a non-criminal conviction.

The report acknowledged that the experiment affected only a miniscule number of the estimated 7,000 New Yorkers are jailed awaiting trial every day, usually for lack of resources to make bail.

New York judges have at least nine different forms of bail they can require to guarantee an individual’s appearance in court, but according to the study, “by default” most choose the two forms that are the most financially burdensome: payment of a full cash amount or a nonrefundable 10 percent deposit to a bail-bond company.

The report said the procedure for issuing these alternative bail bonds needed to be simplified, and judges needed to be educated about their potential.

Before issuing the alternative bonds, the city’s Office of Court Administration requires at least one person paying to agree to sign paperwork and swear under oath to be liable. That person must be able to demonstrate that he or she has a source of income and will pay the full amount if bail is forfeited.

“Expanding the use of alternative forms of bail will offer more New Yorkers the opportunity to await trial without the harm to employment, housing, family and overall stability that comes from pretrial detention, “said the report.

A full copy of the report is available here.

The Crime Report

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