Freedom denied, #GOT BAIL!

In a lawsuit filed today, the New York Civil Liberties Union challenged the imposition of cash bail when a judge has not considered a person’s ability to pay or alternatives to money bail. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dutchess County resident Christopher Kunkeli, who has spent three months in jail before trial on a petit larceny charge because his $5,000 bail is nearly half of his annual income.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that imprisoning someone solely because of their poverty violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Yet tens of thousands of New Yorkers like Kunkeli who cannot afford bail are deprived of their freedom each year. The NYCLU is seeking a ruling that could set standards for state courts that would lead to large reductions in the numbers of New Yorkers held before trial.

“Mr. Kunkeli is one of the thousands of New Yorkers each year who, though presumed innocent, remain  behind bars because they don’t have means,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Justice should not depend on the size of your bank account. The courts have a responsibility to consider defendants’ financial circumstances.”

New York’s bail statute allows judges to consider alternatives to restrictive forms of bail, such as unsecured and partially-secured bond, as well as pretrial release services, which are available in most counties and have been successful at ensuring participants appear in court. The judge in Mr. Kunkeli’s case set his $5,000 bail and $10,000 bond without considering Kunkeli’s ability to pay, and ordered him jailed in Dutchess County when he could not. Kunkeli was initially arrested on October 10 of last year, accused of shoplifting a vacuum cleaner from Target.

“Five thousand dollars is standing between me and my freedom,” said Mr. Kunkeli. “Because I can’t afford to buy my way out of jail, I couldn’t spend time with my friends and family over the holidays.”

There is a growing nationwide consensus in support of bail reform, as states from New Jersey to Kentucky, and now New York, take steps to enact significant changes to their bail practices. Last week, during his State of the State address, Gov. Cuomo called for eliminating cash bail for low-level offenses.

“The thousands of New Yorkers languishing in jail before trial can’t wait for the possibility that Albany will act,” said Philip Desgranges, NYCLU senior staff attorney. “A ruling in this case would not only provide immediate relief to Mr. Kunkeli, but would begin a process that would help thousands across the state who are denied their freedom solely because of their inability to pay.”

Dutchess County demonstrates why cash bail practices are one of the leading drivers of mass incarceration. People who had not yet been to trial accounted for 71 percent of the county’s jail population in 2016. Between 2010 and 2017, 63 percent were there for misdemeanors or violations. They spent an average of 32 days behind bars for misdemeanor offenses and 16 days for mere violations, like disorderly conduct. Between 2010 and 2017, nearly 700 people were detained for one week or more on just $500 bail. Dutchess County’s bail practices have led to overcrowded jails, with defendants jailed in nearby trailers.

“Even a few days in jail, let alone weeks or months, can mean missed home payments and child support, or even evictions and lost jobs,” said Shannon Wong, director of the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Cash bail practices have led to overcrowded jails and upended lives in Dutchess County. Our neighbors, and all New Yorkers deserve a presumption of innocence and equal justice. These consequences impact individuals and families for years afterward.”

The NYCLU suit seeks a ruling that will have the broader impact of ending New York’s widespread practice of jailing the poor solely because of their poverty.

In addition to Desgranges, NYCLU staff on the case include Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg, associate legal director Christopher Dunn, senior staff attorney Molly Kovel, legal fellow Kristen Burzynski, paralegal Maria Rafael, legal investigator Paula Garcia-Salazar, data and policy analyst Michelle Shames, and former intern Nina Monfredo.

BEYOND THE BARS: Closing Jails and Prisons-2018

Save the Date!  Beyond the Bars: Closing Jails and Prisons March 1-4, 2018

The 8th annual Beyond the Bars Conference of the Center for Justice at Columbia University seeks to contribute to the growing movement to close jails and prisons as a part of the larger struggle to end mass incarceration. In particular, we will focus on elevating the efforts led by grassroots organizers that include formerly incarcerated and directly impacted people.

Prison and jail closings have been taking place unevenly throughout the United States over the past decade. However, campaigns like the ones in New York, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee have helped to usher in a new phase, one that highlights the role of grassroots organizing and directly impacted leadership, and that has begun to put forth a more transformative vision of how to close jails and prisons and what comes in their place. Momentum for lasting change is building. Organizers, activists and scholars have been grappling with many of the deeply seeded issues related to incarceration and criminalization. From the movement to close youth prisons entirely, to centering the fight for racial justice, to highlighting the ways that women and lgbtq community are impacted, to focusing on the elderly inside prisons with long sentences that are about punishment not safety, to interrogating the effectiveness of punishment in reducing violence, we are at a moment where we are able to make concrete advances in reducing the carceral footprint.

It is our hope that this conference will bolster these efforts in the following ways:

Convene and support a national network of people and organizations working to close jails and prisons across the country
Help articulate a vision and analysis for closing jails and prisons and what comes in its place
Address and examine some of the difficult issues and questions that arise in the efforts to close jails and prison
Further catalyze university involvement in the struggle to end mass incarceration

Crime in the US

Murder in America is deeply local.

Homicides in the U.S. rose about 9% last year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation- “Wall Street Journal”

Murder in America: What Makes Cities Safer. Killings fell in Los Angeles and Washington when police established closer ties with people living in the most violent neighborhoods; gentrification also played a role in Washington.

“New York City Set to Have Fewer Murders This Year Than Any Year Since the City Began Keeping Track”    Just days from the end of 2017, New York City is set to tally a record low number of murders for the year, and serious crime, more generally, will have declined for the 27th straight year.


Pretrial Risk Assessment study in Kentucky

Recent years have seen a rush towards evidence-based tools in criminal justice. As part of this movement, many jurisdictions have adopted actuarial risk assessment to supplement or replace the ad-hoc decisions of judges. Proponents of risk assessment tools claim that they can dramatically reduce incarceration without harming public safety. Using rich data on more than one million criminal cases, the paper shows that a 2011 law making risk assessment a mandatory part of the bail decision led to a significant change in bail setting practice, but only a small increase in pretrial release.
Assessing Risk Assessment in Action
George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 17-36
68 Pages ●Posted: 29 Aug 2017 ●Last revised: 13 Dec 2017

Closing Rikers News Update

Save the Date! Feb. 14th Closing in on Closing Rikers Forum with MOCJ Dir. Liz Glazer, NYPD Chief O’Neill and NYC DOHMH Commissioner Dr. Gary Belkin

Closing in on Closing Rikers
A Conversation with Officials from the de Blasio Administration about what they are Doing to Divert People with Serious Mental Illness from the Criminal Justice System and an Opportunity to Ask what More Should be Done to Close Rikers as Soon as Possible.

Co-Sponsored by
The Greenburger Center for Social and Criminal Justice
Metro Industrial Areas Foundation
The New York Daily News

February 14, 2018
8:30 AM – 11:00 AM

Hosted by Baruch College
55 Lexington Ave. (at 24th Street)


Policies driving mass incarceration, including the de-institutionalization of those with serious mental illness, have resulted in the incarceration of millions of people suffering from mental illness, substance use disorders and homelessness.  Plans to reduce mass incarceration and shrink jails and prisons must address this often high needs population. As New York City embarks on a path to close Rikers and reform its criminal justice system, this forum will focus on the key roles of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the NYC Police Department and the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in the diversion process.  The speakers will discuss what they are doing to divert this population and provide alternatives to incarceration, how their efforts can help to close Rikers, and what resources and programs they still need to ensure that people whose mental illness leads to anti social behaviors are able to receive treatment instead of only punishment.  Audience members will be provided the opportunity to participate in a question and answer session following a moderated panel discussion. We hope to see you there. Seating is limited, please RSVP early to ensure a seat.

NYS Jail Justice & Local News

03/2014: Hampden County, Massachusetts breaks the cycle of incarceration by ensuring that inmates get high-quality health care in and out of jail.

5/2014: Pre-Release and Reentry Services (PRRS), a division of Montgomery County’s Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, facilitates the transition between incarceration and release. Eligible offenders may serve the final portion of their sentence at PRRS’ residential facility: the Pre-Release Center (PRC). PRC offers controlled access to the community, holistic programming, and case management in order to improve residents’ reintegration into the community upon exiting the criminal justice system.

01/02/17: In an effort to break the cycle of incarceration, the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office and 21 police departments throughout the county have signed onto a national initiative that aims to divert nonviolent offenders with mental health and substance abuse issues from the criminal justice system and connect them with the services they need.

11/13/17: Jefferson County, Colorado is locking up veterans in special jail unit to break the cycle of incarceration; the housing arrangement will make it easier for VA to provide inmates with services.

10/25/17: Cleveland County, Oklahoma sees drop in detention numbers “The decrease in numbers may not indicate a decrease in crime, but rather appears to be related to the number of adjudicated DOC prisoners being taken to state prisons”.

12/22/17: Cook County Jail, Indiana. The population at the Cook County Jail has fallen below 6,000 inmates, its lowest point in decades, said Cara Smith, chief policy officer for Sheriff Tom Dart, said the number has been declining for some time in part because of a drop in arrests, but the biggest change came some three months ago when criminal court judges were ordered to set bail only in amounts that defendants could afford to pay.