By Reuven Blau
The de Blasio administration has already broken one of its New Year's resolutions — a promise to open 24/7 bail windows in the Bronx and Staten Island, advocates said.
City officials vowed during a City Council hearing in December to be in compliance with a new law that advocates say requires the windows up and running at the start of 2019. But days after the big ball dropped, there were no signs of the payment centers in either of the courts.
The windows are designed to make it easier for people to post bail and avoid having their relatives shipped off to Rikers Island or other city jails.
The city Correction Department has repainted the walls around its planned 24/7 bail window. (Bottom) But the window itself has not yet opened as promised by the start of the year. (Handout) “There is way too much at stake for the Department of Correction to be dragging their feet on the implementation of these common-sense measures," said Elena Weissmann of The Bronx Freedom Fund.
“As it stands, we already have a system that turns the presumption of innocence on its head by jailing people who can't afford bail before trial,” she added. “At a bare minimum, city officials should make these basic improvements to the bail payment process with the urgency it deserves.”
Under current conditions, friends and family members can post bail for defendants 24 hours at Rikers Island or at criminal courthouses in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.
They can also use a newly-launched online system.
Inmate advocates have long pressed city officials to install a 24/7 option in the Bronx and Staten Island.
Correction Department officials say the plan is in motion and that they have reached out to court staff to locate spots for the bail windows.
They also contend that the online bail system technically has them up to new legal standards.
The law states: “The department shall accept or facilitate the acceptance of cash bail payments for inmates in the custody of the department: (i) at any courthouse of the New York City Criminal Court, (ii) at any location within one half mile of any such courthouse during all operating hours of such courthouse and at least two hours subsequent to such courthouse’s closing, or (iii) online.”
Advocates say the online system is not enough because it does not include “cash bail payments” stated in the law.
Correction officials say they actually reached out to City Council members to get clarification on what the law requires. Department brass believe the advocates are totally misinterpreting Local Law 123 and that the bail windows in the Bronx and Staten Island are not mandated by the legislation.
Inmate advocates also contend the city is failing to bailed out detainees fast enough
In one case, it took correction officials 19 hours to free a 22-year-old homeless man after a member of the Bronx Freedom Fund posted his bail on Dec. 8.
The staffer arrived at the Brooklyn House of Detention to post the bail at 9:30 p.m. right as a clerk there left for the night. The bail was posted at 2 a.m. but for some reason it was never processed where the man was being held at the Vernon C. Bain Center barge jail.
Correction officials there claimed they never got any paperwork, and later said there wasn’t a boss in place to handle the request. The man — who asked to remain anonymous — was finally released at around 7 p.m.
Jail brass said they are probing what happened.
The Bronx Freedom Fund said it took an average of 11 hours for its clients to be let go from Dec. 4 to 26. Only 6% of the group’s clients were released within the required three-hour time slot.
“It’s shameful that the correction department’s continued disregard for the law has our clients spending needless hours incarcerated after bail has been posted,” said Elizabeth Bender, staff attorney with the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. “They’ve pledged compliance by January 1st, but given the lack of progress to date, we’re not optimistic.”
The de Blasio administration has taken several steps to make it easier for people to post bail. The DOC created an alert system to notify defense attorneys and court staff when a defendant has the potential to be detained.
Correction officers working as “bail facilitators” will soon be posted at courts and jail facilities, officials said. They will explain to inmates how to post bail or bond and describe the fees that may be collected by bail bonds companies.
Still, Queens City Councilman Rory Lancman, slammed the de Blasio administration for failing to meet the three-hour requirement.
“It’s just another example how the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality,” Lancman said. “If you want to make a criminal justice system that’s fair and more equitable then the right way is to release people when they actually pay bail.”