Bail System Needs Overhaul: NY's Top Judge

Chief Judge Jonathon Lippman is calling for a major overhaul of New York’s bail statutes, which he calls unfair.

In his annual State of the Judiciary address Tuesday, Judge Lippman called on legislators to change the law so judges would be required to consider public safety when setting bail and there would be a presumption of release for nonviolent offenders.

“Most nonviolent indigent defendants are sitting in jail because they can't make as little as $500 bail. That does not promote public safety. It's not a wise use of taxpayer dollars,” said Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

Lippman said nationally, the average cost of holding a defendant in jail is $19,000.

He also said the state should work to reform the bail bonds industry, which he said exerts too much influence over who is released from jail and who isn’t.

Lippman said since bail bondsmen rarely write bonds for defendants held on bails of $1,000 or less, “defendants charged with serious offenses are more likely to obtain bail bonds than those accused of minor crimes.”

Steven Banks with the Legal Aid of New York City said the current bail system punishes defendants before they're convicted of anything.

“When people are behind the prison walls of Rikers, it wears them down and the main goal is to get out and sometimes the goal of getting out overwhelms the goal of vindication,” Banks said.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes applauds Lippman’s calls for putting more requirements on released defendants instead of bail. He says the state could save money by expanding the use of GPS to monitor defendants.

“It's plain foolish not to adopt a system of $20,000 for a GPS system when the alternative cost of keeping someone in Riker's Island is annualized at $90,000 dollars,” Hynes said.

Hynes also highlighted a system at Red Hook Community Justice Center which sometimes allows a defendant to come back to court every three days in lieu of bail.

Listen above as WNYC's Soterios Johnson interviews Judge Lippman about the state's bail system.