The criminal justice system continuously fails communities of color by incarcerating people simply because they cannot afford to pay for bail. We know that this has a disastrous effect in these communities, forcing people to be uprooted from their homes, families, jobs and educational opportunities. The Legal Aid Society is one of the principal advocates for bail reform and reducing the pre -trial detention population in New York City. Our Criminal Defense Practice created the Decarceration Project with the goal of reducing and eventually eliminating the unnecessary pre-trial incarceration of poor people in New York City. This Project has launched several initiatives that focus on restructuring how we have traditionally pursued bail advocacy by moving resources used in trial advocacy or sentencing mitigation to the very beginning of the criminal process.
In the fall of 2017, The Legal Aid Society and Fedcap along with several community partners launched the Women’s Pre-Trial Release Project. Coordinated by Staff Attorney Jane-Roberte Sampeur, this alternative to detention program is aimed at securing the release of women who are held at Rikers, away from their families and communities simply because they cannot afford bail. The goal is to provide support and resources for our female clients to enhance their overall stability and continued engagement so that they can continue to support their families, be active in their communities, and fight their pending criminal court cases.
The Project provides each participant with a path for building economic stability, wellness, and community through the following integral components:
- Strong immediate support and continued coordinated care.
- The crafting of both an Initial Service Connections Plan and Long-Term Individualized Plan, designed around each woman’s stated needs and present capacity.
- Assistance and advocacy in applying for benefits, securing housing and otherwise interfacing with governmental agencies like the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Homeless Services.
- Help in accessing medical assessments and necessary care.
- Structured employment training and job placement through Fedcap’s specialized programs.
- Financial literacy and assigned individual mentors in partnership with High Water Women.
- Self-care workshops given by community providers around wellness, goal orientation, financial literacy and smart spending, parenting, etc.
- Self-advocacy trainings by Fedcap’s Director of Social Justice Initiatives and different legal organizations on criminal, family, housing, education and mental health law.
The Women’s Pre-Trial Release Project was a direct response to the mass incarceration of women and is one of our many continued efforts to achieve real bail reform in New York City.