By Noah Manskar
May 10, 2019
People in New York City jails are often kept behind bars for hours after they pay bail despite a law requiring their prompt release, advocates said in a report released Friday.
The City Council passed a law in 2017 requiring the Department of Correction to release most detainees within three hours after they post bail. But the DOC often blows that deadline, which took effect in October 2018, according to the report from the Legal Aid Society and the Bronx Freedom Fund.
The organizations' 27 clients who were bailed out last month in The Bronx and Queens waited an average of six hours and 52 minutes before they got out, the report says. Only two were released on time and five had to spend another night in behind bars before they were freed, advocates say.
"DOC is not above the law, and our clients continue to suffer wrongful incarceration at Rikers Island and other facilities – some of the most dangerous jails in the country – because of the Department's bureaucratic bumbling," said Elizabeth Bender, a staff attorney with Legal Aid's Decarceration Project, in a statement.
The DOC has consistently struggled with the release deadlines since the city law first took effect in October 2017, the report shows.
Only 23 percent of Freedom Fund clients were freed within the initial five-hour time limit from January through March of last year, while 24 percent were released on time from April through September, when the window was four hours, the report says.
From October 2018 through last month, only 10 percent of clients were released within the three-hour limit, according to the report. And it took the DOC an average of eight hours and 11 minutes to free people after they paid bail in that period, advocates say.
One client last month was released into freezing temperatures at 1 a.m. — and the delay cost him his job and his bed in the shelter where he was living, the report says.
The DOC says it has to complete a lengthy and careful process before it can release detainees. Department staff have to complete 15 steps twice before releasing someone, including a check for warrants and an interview with the person who is in custody, according to the department.
The law also contains several exceptions to the three-hour deadline, the DOC says, such as cases in which someone has a warrant from another agency or needs immediate mental-health or medical treatment.
"We don't want people staying in our jails any longer than necessary. We want people who pay bail back home with their families and at their jobs," DOC Press Secretary Jason Kersten said in a statement. "We've done a lot to make paying bail easier, and we are working hard to safely speed up the discharge process."