Broad Coalition of Elected Officials, Legal Aid Organizations, and Labor and Faith Leaders Hail Stringer-Benjamin-Blake Proposal to Ban Commercial Bail in New York State
April 20, 2018
(New York, NY) — Following the announcement by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, State Senator Brian Benjamin, and Assemblymember Michael Blake of the introduction of a state bill to ban commercial bail in New York State, a broad coalition of advocacy groups, legal aid organizations, and labor and faith leaders praised their proposal and called on the State legislature to pass this landmark bill.
Sponsored by State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Michael Blake, the new legislation would enact reforms called for by Comptroller Stringer to abolish commercial bail. The new proposal is consistent with bans already implemented by four other states. If passed, this legislation would be a major step forward in advancing much needed changes to New York’s bail system by making the state’s criminal justice system fairer while keeping millions of dollars from flowing into the hands of opportunistic bail bond companies, and help New York City to further reduce its jail population and close Rikers Island once and for all.
Former New York State Chief Judge and Chair of the Independent Commission Jonathan Lippman said, “Nobody should be incarcerated simply because they are poor. Unfortunately in New York, this is the case, with 75 percent of our City’s jail inmates held in pretrial detention – many of whom are there because they can’t make bail. And as the data indicates: bail does not make people return to court in greater percentages. Put simply, it’s time we do away with cash bail, and abolishing the commercial bail bonds industry, which perpetuates this unjust and inhumane practice, is an important first step. I applaud Comptroller Scott Stringer for taking action against our unfair bail system, and for supporting criminal justice reforms that will not only make our system fairer, but also reduce our City’s jail population, allowing us to close the horrific jails on Rikers Island as soon as possible.”
“As thousands of recent stories in the media have shown, the problems posed by the existence of the commercial bail bond industry will not be solved by rooting out a few bad actors or cleaning up the regulatory structure. The problem is the industry itself – a for-profit leach on the criminal justice system whose business model relies on people being in jail and money they don’t have being the only option for release. Even when commercial bail bond companies work within the boundaries of the law, which in our experience is rare, they siphon off millions of dollars a year from the communities already hardest hit by mass incarceration – predominantly low-income communities of color. It is unconscionable that New York continues to allow this industry to inflict such grave economic harm on our people,” said Nick Encalada-Malinowski, Civil Rights Campaign Director at VOCAL-NY.
“Private business interests and profiteering off of people’s freedom have no place in the pretrial process. The existence of the private bail bond industry fuels an unjust and discriminatory money bail system that methodically marginalizes and punishes poor people and people of color. This industry routinely uses corrupt tactics to keep people trapped in jail and indebted to an unjust pretrial system under the guise of providing “aid” and a “path to freedom”. As community calls to boldly overhaul New York’s bail statute gain momentum, so do demands to eliminate the predatory private bail bond industry. We applaud NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Senator Benjamin and Assembly Member Blake for taking concrete action to respond to these calls, and for their commitment to overhauling the bail system and eliminating bail bonds companies from every corner of our city and state,” said Erin Leigh George, #FREEnewyork Campaign Coordinator, JustLeadershipUSA.
“While ultimately we must end the cash bail system and all forms of wealth based detention, it is past time that we join the every other nation in the world, save one, in banning commercial bail,” said Peter Goldberg, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund. “Last year we released a report showing that commercial bail bond companies in New York City are systematically operating in violation of the law. As Comptroller Stringers report shows, even when bondsmen operate above board, the industry lines the pockets of for-profit insurance companies by bleeding dry low-income communities of tens of millions of dollars each year. Over 30,000 of us have called on elected officials eliminate the industry and to provide redress for the multitude of New Yorkers who have been robbed in plain sight. We are thankful that meaningful steps are now being taken.”
“This legislation is an important step toward eliminating the way our justice system all too often punishes people just for being poor,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Senior Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Eliminating commercial bail in New York sends a crystal-clear message: Our state will not allow vulnerable New Yorkers to rack up financial debt because they’ve gotten caught up in our criminal justice system.”
“Beyond the obvious injustice of a money bail system in which a person’s liberty is determined by their wealth, the ability for bail bond companies to turn a profit on each and every bail set is an even greater injustice. For too long, New York courts have placed individuals and families in the deeply unfair position of either putting up an inordinate amount of money or turning to a bail bond company to pay a deposit that will never be returned. We applaud the effort to eliminate insurance company bail as an option under the law, and urge the courts–in the few cases where bail should be set–to use other forms of bail that are far more affordable to the average New Yorker. That is the only just use of money bail in our current system,” said Insha Rahman, Program Director, Vera Institute of Justice.
“Eliminating the for-profit bail bond system, which exploits low-income people at their most vulnerable moments, is essential to reducing racial and wealth-based disparities in our criminal justice system. We applaud Senator Benjamin and Assembly Member Blake for introducing legislation that prohibits commercial bail in our state, and our city’s Comptroller Stringer for championing this approach. This is an important step in the right direction toward comprehensive bail reform, which we believe should ultimately get rid of the unjust cash bail system altogether,” said Hector Figueroa, President of SEIU 32BJ.
Henry Garrido, Executive Director, DC 37 said, “For too long, an unfair bail system has tilted the scales of justice against the city’s poor. The commercial bail bond industry has exacerbated the problem with predatory practices that must be stopped. We support this legislation to abolish commercial bail bonds in New York. We thank the sponsors, State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly member Michael Blake. And we thank the Comptroller for his continued focus on this issue.”
“When we talk about criminal justice reform we must address the commercial bail bond industry and its unjust and discriminatory practices. Too many low-income, brown and black New Yorkers fall prey to bail bond companies whose only care is to make a profit. Eliminating commercial bail bonds in NYC is an important step to making our criminal justice system fairer,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
In New York, young people of color exist in environments where their existence continues to be criminalized and where we still have major work to do to end mass incarceration. The commercial bail bonds industry has profited off a system designed to tear our families apart, keep us locked in cages, and gain wealth by exploiting our pain and desperation. We need to take transformative and urgent steps to end all forms of wealth-based detention and thank Comptroller Stringer, Assembly Member Blake, and Senator Benjamin for standing up against the commercial bail bonds industry and standing with our communities,” said Kesi Foster, Make The Road New York.
“This legislation takes aim at a part of the justice system whose mission and practices are antithetical to justice — companies that profit off of low-income individuals who are presumed innocent until trial. For too long, the commercial bail bonds industry has engaged in predatory practices that force the poor to pay exorbitant, non-refundable fees to secure their freedom. New York should end the system of cash bail that forces poor New Yorkers to choose between trying to find money to buy their freedom or staying locked up until trial,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union.
“The scourge of the state’s commercial bail industry is an affront to justice and our values as New Yorkers,” said Elizabeth Bender, Staff Attorney from the Decarceration Project at The Legal Aid Society. “Legal Aid has long called for comprehensive bail reform, and eliminating this industry that profits off of the incarceration of our clients and other low-income individuals is a necessary step to achieving that goal. We laud New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Senator Brian Benjamin, and State Assembly member Michael Blake for introducing this legislation that will hopefully rid New York of the commercial bail bonds for good.”
“There is a growing recognition of the fundamental unfairness of money bail bonds for those who cannot afford it, but less well-known is the terrible harm suffered by families who do manage to pay a bail bonds agent to free a loved one. The bail bonds industry siphons money from the low-income New Yorkers we represent and their families in times of crisis and desperation, often charging them illegal fees. Brooklyn Defender Services applauds Comptroller Scott Stringer for documenting the financial and personal burden private bail bonds place on the city and low-income New Yorkers. We also recognize the leadership of Senator Benjamin and Assembly Member Blake for introducing legislation to abolish commercial bail in New York because it is a predatory and unnecessary industry that has thrived on the suffering of people accused of crimes and their families,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director of Brooklyn Defender Services.
“An exploitative industry driven primarily by profit shouldn’t have any place in determining anyone’s liberty or freedom. Yet, we routinely witness the bail bond industry taking advantage of our clients, their families, and their communities,” said Alice Fontier, Managing Director of the Bronx Defenders Criminal Practice. “We applaud Senator Benjamin and Assembly Member Blake for their bold leadership on this issue, and to Comptroller Singer for laying bare the damage that the bail bond industry causes every day.”
“The for-profit organizations and private companies who fuel the cash bail system have amassed a fortune exploiting Black and poor families for their personal gain,” said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of Color Of Change. “This bill takes an important step forward by challenging a broken bail system that wreaks havoc on the lives of many to line the pockets of a few, putting those who continue to benefit from the bail bond industry and protect it from investigation on notice. In New York and across the nation, ending a cash bail system that targets Black communities with impunity and creates profits from the indefinite detention of people unable to pay requires brave elected officials willing to stand up to predatory private corporations who are the architects and beneficiaries of the system. The commitment shown by Comptroller Stringer, Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Michael Blake will set a necessary precedent and build momentum for the elimination of cash bail that saps money and opportunity from our communities.”
“The commercial bail bonds industry is yet one more element of an oppressive and wealth-extracting criminal legal system that, for far too long and in far too many ways, exploits our most vulnerable families. New York should be leading efforts to end the criminalization of poverty and transform the way justice systems operate. Investigating, reforming, and ultimately dismantling the commercial bail bonds industry are all critical steps in this process, and ultimately to granting our communities the full freedom to thrive,” said Kumar Rao, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Popular Democracy.
“Wealth plays a defining role in whether a person will be jailed before trial, or able to defend their case from home. When people do not have the money to buy their way out of jail, they can turn to the unregulated bail bond industry – but they risk being charged nonrefundable and often illegal fees, forced to put up unlimited collateral, and subjected to invasive check-in requirements. New York needs meaningful bail reform that ends wealth-based detention and eliminates the commercial bail bond industry. Katal applauds Senator Benjamin and Assemblyman Blake for their leadership on this crucial issue, and Comptroller Stringer for shining a light on the injustices of this industry. We can, and we must, end the practice of transferring wealth from poor communities of color to exploitative for-profit companies,” said Mo Farrell, Policy Strategist at the Katal Center for Health, Equity and Justice.
“The commercial bail industry relies on poverty for its vitality. Beyond the abusive practices and illegally assessed fees is an irreparably immoral business model that draws on the limited resources of economically distressed communities in selling freedom. We cannot continue to allow bail bonds companies to prey on our most marginalized and under-resourced communities. We applaud the leadership of Comptroller Stringer, Senator Benjamin, and Assembly Member Blake in putting an end to the harm that the commercial bail industry has wreaked on our city,” said Bianca Tylek, Director of the Corrections Accountability Project at the Urban Justice Center.
“The bail bond industry is one that unscrupulously profits from families desperate to secure their loved-one’s freedom. This predatory industry has flourished by sucking dry the limited assets and financial resources of low-income, communities of color. Its financial success is not a sign of the industry’s necessity, but a testament to the industry’s well-documented willingness to flout laws, bend rules, and exploit innocent consumers in their time of great distress. New York must eradicate this predatory industry and its practice of imprisoning low-income individuals for their loved-ones’ inability to buy their freedom. We must enforce the existing laws by actually regulating and scrutinizing the bail bond industry to protect consumers from being extorted by bail bondsmen. We are thankful to NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer for exposing the grim reality of the bail bond industry and to Senator Brian Benjamin and Assembly Member Michael Blake for putting New York City consumers first and taking action on this critical issue,” said Nasoan Sheftel-Gomes, Supervising Attorney, Consumer Justice Practice at the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.
“Far too many New Yorkers’ lives have been unnecessarily upended by our state’s reliance on commercial bail bonds, which disproportionately impacts Black and Latino people. There are many alternative approaches that would be far less damaging and better serve the interests of public safety and communities, especially in cases of people arrested for low-level drug possession. We cannot allow predatory tactics that target vulnerable New Yorkers to continue unregulated and unchecked,” said Melissa Moore, New York Deputy Director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
“The Interfaith Center of New York welcomes this proposed legislation to end the Commercial Bail Bond industry in New York State. In addition to eliminating many short-term incarcerations on Riker’s Island, this legislation will help ensure that fewer people are in prison on any given day simply because they are poor. We stand with Assemblymember Blake, Senator Benjamin, and Comptroller Stringer in this long-awaited critical step towards achieving real criminal justice reform in New York,” said Reverend Chloe Breyer, Executive Director of The Interfaith Center of New York.
“Commercial bail bonds take millions of dollars in fees from poor New Yorkers every year. One’s liberty should not be tied to the amount of money they have in the bank. Freeing our neighbors from this system is an important step toward creating a more just society, preventing people from being sent to Rikers Island, and building a system where all New Yorkers are treated equally under the law,” said Rev. Winnie Varghese, Priest, Trinity Church Wall Street.
“As faith leaders, it is important that we raise our voices and stand up for New York City’s most vulnerable. We cannot turn a blind eye to systemic injustice. We must instead challenge this injustice and support policies that move our City towards equity. Hinduism teaches us that the world is one family, Vasudaivam Kutumbakam. Incarcerating a fellow brother and sister merely because he or she cannot afford to make bail effectively places money before humanity. It’s time to reevaluate backward criminal justice policies, and focus our energies not on putting people behind bars but instead empowering them to succeed,” said the Board of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus.
“I applaud the efforts of Comptroller Scott Stringer, Senator Brian Benjamin, and Assembly member Michael Blake to end commercial bail bonding in New York State. It is time to stop penalizing the poor and apply evidenced based, pretrial interventions that regard public safety above profit,” said Keisha Boatswain, Executive Director, Coney Island Anti-Violence Collaborative.
“We work with a population of young people who are most impacted by having parents and caretakers unable to provide and care for them because of criminal justice involvement. We see this legislation as an important step that not only reduces the prison population, and brings about fairness, but one that also supports families in need of resources, not further justice involvement,” said Dana Rachlin, Founder of NYC Together.
“Justice should be blind, and not dependent on a person’s financial status. Proverbs wisely admonishes us that ‘Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good.’ We are not to treat the poor differently than the rich, in any city systems, including the justice system. It is unacceptable that New York allows this dishonest system to continue. We stand with Comptroller Stringer, politicians and community activists who call for an end to commercial bail. New York City is better than this unjust system that siphons money from the poor because they can,” said Rev. Wendy Calderon Payne, Executive Director, BronxConnect.
To read the full release, click here.
To see the proposed bill to ban commercial bail in New York City, click here.
To read the Comptroller’s initial report, The Public Cost of Private Bail, click here.