In an attempt to keep defendants who are being charged with petty misdemeanors out of the notorious correctional facility at Rikers Island, the New York City Mayor’s Office has decided to stop holding them under bond. Starting in 2016, those who are accused of low level non violent crimes will no longer be held in custody till they secure release by paying a bail.
What brought the change?
The move was prompted by two particularly tragic incidents in which defendants who were accused of Class D misdemeanors died while and after being incarcerated at the infamous Riker Island Jail. The first case was that of a homeless man who was mentally ill and accused of trespassing. He was held under a bail of $2500, which he could not post. He eventually met an untimely end in the scorching hot cells of the Rikers Island correctional facility.
The second case was even more tragic and involved a young 16 year old defendant, Kalief Browder, who was accused of stealing a backpack. He could not post the $3000 bail that he was being held under and ended up spending 3 years in Rikers Island jail where he was beaten up by the guards and the inmates and kept in solitary confinement.
The charges against him were eventually dropped but he could never recover from the mental trauma caused by the torture he had been subjected to. Browder committed suicide in early 2015 which was a wakeup call for law makers to reconsider the harsh stance being taken when dealing with low risk defendants.
What the future holds?
Beginning next year, judges will be allowed to order behavioral therapy, text message reminders, daily check-ins, and drug rehabilitation instead of custodial detention under bail. Experts believe that the move will prove to be particularly beneficial for the poor who simply do not stand a chance even when charged with the most innocuous of criminal acts.