Mayor de Blasio Announces Online Bail Payment, Helping to Reduce Unnecessary Jail Time

November 1, 2016

Changes are part of the Bail Lab, launched in October 2015 to safely reduce New York City’s reliance on money bail

NEW YORK— Mayor de Blasio and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice today announced the creation of an online bail payment system that will help avoid unnecessary jail time by making it easier to post bail. The system – developed as part of the Bail Lab – will allow the friends and family of those incarcerated on cash bail to pay bail online, by phone or by kiosk rather than make the costly and time-consuming trip to a Department of Correction facility. This service will be available system-wide by Spring 2017.

“Nobody with the ability to pay bail should sit in jail just because the bail process is an inconvenience,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “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.”

“Online bail is one piece of a suite of tools and strategies that the City is employing to reduce unnecessary incarceration. Currently, approximately 12,000 defendants every year spend a less than a week in jail because their friends and family were not able to reach the courthouse in time to post the required cash bail.” said Elizabeth Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “Technology is part of the solution to the problem of meaningless jail."

"The United States Justice Department recently stated that holding a person in jail because they cannot afford to pay bail is unconstitutional. For our system to be truly just, we cannot permit a person to sit in jail because they are indigent. I applaud the City's efforts to reduce reliance on money bail and help ensure that defendants, who are presumed innocent, are not unnecessarily incarcerated,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“Paying bail online is an idea whose time has long since come, and is consistent with the City Council’s efforts to pair long-term systemic change with simple, common-sense solutions. I commend the Mayor for implementing this program, and look forward to continued collaboration on criminal justice reform,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Obstacles to paying bail play a role in an estimated 12,000 unnecessary jail stays every year, Improving bail payment helps reduce the risk of recidivism associated with just a few days behind bars, as well as the high costs of booking and keeping someone into jail.

Bail is set during someone’s first appearance before a judge, at which point a defendant does not have access to their bank account, a cell phone, or their wallet. To pay bail, a defendant needs to have a friend or family member in court who can pay the bail immediately in cash. Friends and family typically only have a couple hours to post bail before the defendant is transferred to jail. Once a defendant is in jail, friends or family must travel to Rikers Island or another Department of Correction facility in order to pay bail. Lengthy travel times, going through security, and long lines in cashiers' offices mean this process can often take hours. A similar online bail payment system in Westchester County saved 77 individuals a collective 625 nights in jail over a three-month period.

The ability to pay bail online and by phone is the latest step the City has taken to make bail payment easier and faster. Additional recent changes include:

  • Installing ATMs in every courthouse, to ensure that friends and families have easy access to cash at all hours.
  • Providing friends and family with a first-of-its-kind complete guide to the bail system to help navigate a complex system and ensure that a loved one does not spend unnecessary time behind bars.
  • Working with the City Council on legislation to eliminate fees associated with paying bail.

Learn more here.

Bail amounts in New York City are much lower than the national average. Yet only 10% of people are able to pay bail at arraignment. Another 30% make bail after arraignment, most within one week.This suggests that individuals may be able to come up with the money to pay bail, but inefficiencies in the bail payment process may create delays that result in unnecessary time behind bars. To identify bottlenecks in the bail payment process, the City partnered with the Center for Court Innovation to comprehensively map physical and procedural obstacles to paying bail. The report found that the lack of an online or remote bail payment system was a glaring barrier to bail payment. Today the City takes the next step in tackling this issue.

The City is in the process of entering into a contract with leading online payments processor to construct a system that is accessible and navigable for New Yorkers across the City. The development of the City’s first online bail payment system represents a historic opportunity for the City to modernize its criminal justice infrastructure, create a seamless platform that aggregates data across agencies and provide a much-needed service to the public. As part of this initiative, the City will evaluate the effectiveness of this online bail payment system to ensure it is accessible across the City and that it assists the City in promoting the overarching goals of reducing unnecessary incarceration, enhancing fairness and ensuring individuals appear in court. The City plans to track statistics about how often the system is used, whether it reduces the length of stay for those who are eventually bailed out, and whether its use affects people’s appearance rate in court to ensure the system is working well for all New Yorkers.

"This is a welcome change that seems basic but could make a big impact and even save lives," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "We know that unnecessary time in jail produces worse outcomes for everyone, and cutting the red tape that prevents those who are entitled to bail from accessing it is common sense. The fact that we haven't already fixed this boggles the mind, and I thank the de Blasio administration for recognizing this problem and fixing it."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, “Online bail payment is a smart, sensible reform by the de Blasio administration. I appreciate this continued focus on reducing unnecessary jail time while further modernizing our criminal justice system.”

“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. 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,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris.

"Bail reform has always been a crucial component of fixing a justice system that fails to deliver justice far too many New Yorkers," said State Senator Daniel Squadron. "As we continue working towards a more just justice system, I look forward to working with the City on speedy trial reform and other critical reforms, and thank the City, Department of Corrections, and my colleagues in government."

"By creating an online bail payment system, our City is implementing a common-sense measure that will ensure that thousands of New Yorkers avoid unnecessary jail stays by making the process of posting bail more accessible," said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. "I commend the efforts of Mayor de Blasio and the Office of Criminal Justice for taking a concrete step in effectively reforming our criminal justice system and making our City a fairer place for all."

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