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New York Mass Bail Out Action Targets Bail System Manipulation

by Virginia Griese

Throughout October, more than 105 women and teens incarcerated at Rikers Island and juvenile facilities had their bail paid by hundreds of volunteers and walked to freedom. 

The Mass Bail Out Action (“MBOA”), organized by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and other grassroots groups, tried to post bail for every woman and 16- or 17-year-old. This event served to highlight the increasing abuse of the bail system in New York and to push for the close of Rikers Island.

“The amount of bail posted ranged from $750 to $100,000,” according to The New York Times, and totaled $1.2 million. “The youngest person bailed out was 16 and the oldest was 62. There were 64 adult women and 41 high school-aged males. Ninety-two percent of those bailed out had been charged with a felony.”

The bail system exists to allow those who have not been to trial, and thus still presumed innocent in the eyes of the law, to be conditionally released from jail until their court date.

Proponents of the MBOA claim that district attorneys abuse the system, making the request for bail, which is set by a budget. They claim the impoverished are targeted with bails set far outside the reach of the defendants. They argue that such high bails are used solely to keep these individuals jailed before trial. 

The bailout, said R.F.K. Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy, “proves that the system is unfair and targets people of color and people living in poverty.”

Officials counter that, in the name of public safety, the bail amounts are necessary. Bailed-out prisoners may reoffend and commit another crime before their appointed day in court. However, according to a study by the New York City 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.” Public safety notwithstanding, under New York law it is illegal to set bail for any other reason than to make certain that the defendant will appear back to court.

Even if the defendants are deserving of the median bail of $5,000, placing them in jail exposes them to the exact environment that crime control attempts to rein in. Their families are subject to the loss of income and support, not to mention the loss of a loved one. The MBOA serves not only to highlight the injustice of the manipulation of a system based on the principle of due process, but also to allow women and young people to go back to work, school, and family until their day in court. 

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Sources: techdirt.com, bostonreview.net, nytimes.com

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