Courtesy Rob Bennett/Mayor’s office
Mayor de Blasio announces a new bail payment system that should cut down unnecessary jail time in city prisons.
By Bill Parry

The de Blasio administration announced the creation of an online bail payment system that will help defendants avoid unnecessary jail time by making it easier to post bail. Beginning in the spring, the system will allow the friends and family of those incarcerated on cash bail to pay online rather than make the costly and time-consuming trip to a Department of Correction facility.

“Nobody with the ability to pay bail should sit in jail just because the bail process is an inconvenience,” de Blasio said. “Family members and friends will be able to avoid long lines and traveling during business hours by paying bail online, by phone or at a kiosk in the courthouse—finally bringing the bail payment process into the 21st century.”

Obstacles to paying bail play a role in an estimated 12,000 unnecessary jail stays every year. City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), the chairman of the City Council Criminal Justice Committee, proposed the new online payment system and other bail system reforms in June 2015.

“I think it’s progress and I’m glad he actually listens to suggestions from the City Council,” Lancman said. “The mechanics of paying bail is odious and out of date.”

Bail is set during someone’s first appearance before a judge, at which point a defendant does not have access to his or her bank account, a cell phone or wallet. To pay bail, a defendant needs to have a friend or family member in court who can pay the bail immediately in cash within a couple of hours before the defendant is transferred to jail.

Once a defendant is in jail, friends or family must travel to Rikers Island or another DOC facility to pay bail. Lengthy travel times, going through security, and long lines in cashiers’ offices mean this process can often take hours.

“Easing the process for making bail payments will ensure that those who have not been convicted of crimes do not spend unnecessary time in jail,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said. “This reform is a good step forward and I applaud the change while I redouble my efforts to fully solve this injustice by eliminating cash bail in its entirety.”

A similar bail payment system in Westchester County saved 77 individuals a collective 625 nights in jail over a three-month period.

“There are people currently sitting on Rikers that can pay bail but don’t have anyone to deal with the bureaucracy. Why can’t you just go online and pay bail with a credit card or online check so the person can be released?” Lancman said. “I’m surprised it took such a long time, but hopefully in spring 2017 people will finally be able to do that.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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