Bail is Busted: How Jail Really Works

Thousands of New Yorkers are stuck behind bars because they're too broke to get out

From early on, Occupiers have organized jail support—teams of people ready with food, cigarettes, MetroCards, and emotional care who wait outside the precincts or sit in arraignment court.

"Being in jail is a form of trauma," says Moira Meltzer-Cohen, a City University of New York law student who works with Occupy Wall Street's Activist Legal Working Group. "You're stripped of your freedom, and you're often not treated very nicely. It's important for the Occupiers to recognize that their experience probably doesn't begin to compare to what more vulnerable people experience, but it's still traumatic, and it's hard to put a value on having friendly faces when you get out."

People arrested in the course of Occupy actions also have even more tangible advantages. For one, they have legal representation from the National Lawyers Guild, rather than having to rely on overworked public defenders. For another, like the members of many social-protest movements before them, they bail each other out.

Unlike her cell mates, Occupier Lauren DiGioia, arrested for dancing on the sidewalk, had access to bail.
C.S. Muncy
Unlike her cell mates, Occupier Lauren DiGioia, arrested for dancing on the sidewalk, had access to bail.
DiGioia says her time in jail showed her how different the criminal-justice system is for her less fortunate cell mates.
C.S. Muncy
DiGioia says her time in jail showed her how different the criminal-justice system is for her less fortunate cell mates.

Occupy Wall Street's decision-making body, the New York General Assembly, has allocated thousands of dollars toward bail and developed a smooth-running system for making sure protesters never have to languish in a cell for want of cash.

Most protesters are let off with a desk-appearance ticket or are released at arraignment on their own recognizance. But in some cases, the judge sets bail, and when that happens, a member of the movement's Accounting Working Group is on hand with cash at the ready.

It's a system that has worked well for the Occupiers, who are then free to fight their cases from a position of freedom.

"I can't tell you how many Occupy protesters I've spoken to who have told me a story about their time in jail, talking with other people who are in there for something stupid like a stop-and-frisk arrest or something, and how much that stays with them," says Matt McCoy, a 26-year-old who has been involved with the movement since its first day. "For a lot of us, that arrest isn't going to wreck our lives, and that's not necessarily true for the other people in there."

That uncomfortable awareness percolated among Occupiers for months, and as the movement began its planning for a range of May Day actions, some of them decided to do something about it. Occupy had already spun off numerous projects targeted at specific problems, including one that addressed banks' criminal responsibility for the foreclosure crisis by taking over foreclosed homes in East New York and installing homeless families in them.

McCoy, Meltzer-Cohen, and half a dozen others saw an opportunity to do something similar for the criminal-justice system, to call attention to the way bail is used to force guilty pleas and to keep people locked up for no other crime than their poverty. It would be a way for Occupiers to reach beyond their movement.

In its early meetings, the group, calling itself Bail Out New York, contemplated an organized effort to post cash bail for as many non-Occupy-affiliated criminal defendants as it could afford to. There were some legal problems with that strategy, though, so now they're contemplating alternatives. Among them is a mass action building on the Bronx Defenders' recent legal victory. 

One of the little-used options for bail allows for someone else to stand as surety for a defendant, putting no money down up front but pledging to pay the full amount if the defendant misses a court date.

"One of the options we're looking at is getting a lot of people into an arraignment court and one by one having them stand up for defendants and say, 'Judge, if you'll set an unsecured bond, I'll stand surety,'" Meltzer-Cohen says. "Either the judges would go with it, which would be new and great, or they'd be on record refusing it, basically saying, 'We'd rather keep this person locked up than let him out on a legally permissible form of bail.'"

Bail Out New York is still working through some obstacles to this plan—finding many people willing to put their bank accounts on the line for $1,000 for a stranger might be more easily said than done—but the group is determined to do something.

"This is one of the most destructive, discriminatory parts of the criminal-justice system," McCoy says. "It ruins individual lives and whole communities. And we're at a moment where there's a real potential for change. We just have to figure out the right places to push."

npinto@villagevoice.com

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89 comments
Jb411207
Jb411207

Greetings from Texas. So, in addition to ignoring the 2nd Amendment NYC ignores the 8th Amendment. Kelly is standartenfuhrer of a fascist city state. Bloomberg is fuhrer. F NY.

Les Legato
Les Legato

Empty the jails and send all the "alleged" criminals to the VV offices. If there isn't enough room let them squat in Williamsburg!

acpkingstaff
acpkingstaff

ok heres another great necessary article The Village Voice Should Look into and Publicize Conditions On Rikers Island!!! There Is Suspicion That Riker's Island causes Cancer!!!! It Is Built on a Landfill!!Inmates who serve any Length of time on this God ForSakin Island Beware!!!Look at The Rates of cancer On Correction Officers who Have Worked all thir Lives on that landfill How many Inmates Have been Exposed also .This Is the Biggest Secret New York wants to Hide Investigate it Now!!!!!

SNAKESRULE
SNAKESRULE

tough shit losers...don't break the law, don't go to jail.

Kevin
Kevin

duh, if you have money you have privilege, welcome to the real world.

 << Work at home, $35/h, link
<< Work at home, $35/h, link

Know thyself, said the old philosopher, improve thyself, saith the new. Our great object in time is not to waste our passions and gifts on the things external that we must leave behind, but that we cultivate within us all that we can carry into the et

Die
Die

I have blue hair that was popular in 1982, and I identify with the oppressed man, wow, yeah, the vilage voice and "downtown scene" baby yeah it's so awesome people who can't use their brain at all they make such awesome music the way they can't play an instrument or do anything else yeah man the downtown scene blue hair baby yeay

hermadite
hermadite

Feeling sorry for a few small potatoes trapped by our injustice system doesn't deserve much attention. Rather, let's elevate our sights on a larger picture, namely the National Debt. It's now in the trillions, and will get worse before it gets better. Therefore, why doesn't President Obama release all 2.2 million incarcerated prisoners and give them seven days in wish to be adopted by an American family, or put to sleep. Why? Because it costs our government $60,000 a year to house, feed, guard, entertain and rehabilitate each convict. Once the cells are empty, they can be used to hold the homeless. But this is common sense, something we lost about five decades ago.

Marcy
Marcy

Easy solution for all the people crying out for these poor people who can't manage to go through life without being repeatedly arrested, make bail for them.

That's right, sell the Volvo, cash in the kid's college fund, sell the summer home and go down to court with a briefcase of $100 bills and start making bail for every one of these poor neglected folks who can't make bail and would rather plead out than waste away in jail.

Do it. Then find 10 friends and have them sell their stuff and do the same.

All those nice people you bail out will thank you and you'll get your money back when they show up in court, which they will because they are nice responsible people who just happen to be poor because, well for some reason that surely isn't their fault.

But start with the Volvo. You can sell that this weekend and start bailing out people Monday morning.

Id Rather Not Say
Id Rather Not Say

The Village Voice is a horrible lefty slimeball rag...but even a stopped clock is right twice a day. As a long-time NY investigator, I can confirm the accuracy of most of this article.

Ray Kelly as Mayor would make things even worse.

ageofknowledge
ageofknowledge

This is a good article. We have a serious problem with both not executing the worst of the worst and having way too many petty laws with large fees associated with them. Also, on petty matters there should be a better method of having them expunged for people who only violated one time after say three years.

Here's a good article that talks about this further: http://www.economist.com/node/...

acpkingstaff
acpkingstaff

Rikers Island is built on a landfill. Correction Officers who Work there Die at Higher rates of Cancer Inmates especially the poor who cant afford $1000 bails lay up on this God forsaken island They Must Plead Guilty Just to Get Off This Cancer Causing Hell Please investigate this Tragedy New York is trying to Hide

acpkingstaff
acpkingstaff

Rikers Island is a Health Threat To all Who Are Subjected Correction officers as well as Inmates This is the Biggest Secret The Government in New York City is Hiding Please expose and Investigate this Tragedy

acpkingstaff
acpkingstaff

ok heres another great necessary article The Village Voice Should Look into and Publicize Conditions On Rikers Island!!! There Is Suspicion That Riker's Island causes Cancer!!!! It Is Built on a Landfill!!Inmates who serve any Length of time on this God ForSakin Island Beware!!!Look at The Rates of cancer On Correction Officers who Have Worked all thir Lives on that landfill How many Inmates Have been Exposed also .This Is the Biggest Secret New York wants to Hide Investigate it Now!!!!!

Gengie33
Gengie33

"Keep it real stupid and not get involved in social policy". Sounds like sweet music to the ears of the NWO. !st of all, a limousine liberal does not ever go to jail. They write checks and go on globalist scum TV shows (Charlie Rose) and whine about the state of the world. This woman got arrested and educated herself on the abuses of the system. She felt enough empathy for her fellow human beings to have a life-changing experience. Stev and Jackoff on the other hand are sheeple waiting to be led to slaughter by a system that lets them think they are the chosen people. Stev wishes he had a trust fund and Jackoff made an account based on misspelling foreigner. You 2 will not be the first on the trains to the FEMA camps, but you will be on the list trust me. Just tell them you are a REAL AMERICAN when they come. I'm sure you will get bail. LOL

Stevart
Stevart

Miss DiJoy is a most likely a trust-fund brat who is piling up liberal creds by her supposed sexual harassment, arrest, and any other 15 min. famous gag she can think up. It's limousine liberals like her whose tax-the-rich policies have fostered the underclass through endless gov programs that hinder not help the poor. This chick is a complete fraud. At least Snooki has enough sense to keep it REAL stupid and not get involved with social policy. DiJoy should though be careful what she wishes for. She just might REALLY end up the creek without a trust fund paddle, then you'll see what this &^%$ is made of. It won't be pretty!

Jack Off The Foreignor
Jack Off The Foreignor

Jack the foreigner has jacked off in jail too many times. That's why he cant make his way around this article commenting system.

Jack Foreigner
Jack Foreigner

Seriously, that's your problem with her, the blue hair??

I wonder how you look.

Gunelle
Gunelle

You are incredibly arrogant. I'll respond the same to you as I did to "erik." It is always astounding to me when people make ignorant comments such as this. For someone to get into "trouble with the law" does not always mean they must have done something to merit it. People get arrested all the time for all kinds of reasons not necessarily having anything to do with any actual crime. It's called false accusation, abuse of power, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, etc etc etc. Happens all the time! That is why the very concept of innocent until proven guilty exists! Good for you that you never ended up arrested from being stopped and frisked. Doesn't mean it never happens to others, or that others don't get arrested even though having broken no law.

Paul Jones
Paul Jones

For the most part this article accurately explains how bail works in NYC criminal proceedings. There is little doubt that the granting of bail is not a science but rests firmly in discretion of the court. In my opinion you cannot evaluate the granting of bail on a system wide basis because it is always granted on a case by case basis.

The arrested OWS protesters, regardless of their origin, race, or religion, are more likely to be granted low bail or ROR than other arrestees. The protesters are entering the system not based upon allegations of criminal wrongdoing but because they engaged in acts of civil disobedience. OWS anticipated that their members might be arrested and planned for their legal representation and release on bail. Other members of OWS are in court to witnesses the proceedings and lend moral support to the jailed protester. The average person arrested, regardless of his or her color, does not have the luxury of romanticizing their arrest. They have not been detained, arrested and processed because of a political act of civil disobedience. The arrest and processing of the OWS protesters is totally dissimilar to the arrest of the average person, regardless of their economic status or race.

Emilio Lizardo
Emilio Lizardo

".. how would bail reform affect the guy who's being arraigned because he beat up his girlfriend last night, ..."

Let's instutionalize misandry. A good example of how the court system really goes out of its way to destroy men. Of course the poor girls in the holding cell get the sympathy when 90% of people in those cells are men.

Kylan Hurt
Kylan Hurt

The justice system is more a money-making system than an actual arbiter of justice. Of course most of the news media is scared to criticize the government for fear of retribution.

KalP
KalP

This is the land of equality. Just some people are more equal than others. Those who are less equal are the problem according to the right wing. They persist in working at poorly paid jobs and living in in unsuitable, overpriced tenements. It is those people who give this nation a bad name. Why can't they just mercilessly expoilt others as they are being exploited by the rich?

erik
erik

I know you are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty but how many of these people are innocent?

A better idea is to just not do things that will get you arrested and avoid the whole mess altogether.

David Wachtel
David Wachtel

Can you please tell me how to get in touch with Bail Out New York if I'd like to support their efforts?

Azel Hill Beckner
Azel Hill Beckner

The bondsmen have a large influence in the political machine. They are the people who profit from the bonds system. Bond is a high interest loan for most people. Beyond the usory laws and any reasonable expectations.

Everly
Everly

@SNAKESRULE That is pretty tough shit when the "law" is as subjective as a police officer arresting someone for dancing on the street. You must not believe in checks and balances. Good thing we're not being ruled by Hitler and that the populous isn't full of people like you. Scary.

Giantnyc
Giantnyc

What an enlightened comment. Please do not procreate.

T_bone_30
T_bone_30

choke on something you piece of trash

JJ
JJ

The time you took to compose and type your sarcastic reply would have been better spent on many other productive tasks. Wealth in this country has been cut nearly in half over the past five years. People fall below the poverty line for legitimate reasons. They get laid off, even after twenty and thirty years with a company. People die, leaving spouses and dependent children. People get sick and can't work. People grow old and disabled. People lose their health insurance or can no longer afford to pay prohibitively expensive premiums, or are under-insured. You missed the point of this article.

Obama Ate Lassie
Obama Ate Lassie

I dream of gengie33 getting gang banged by all the poor prisoners he/she wishes to save.

Stevart
Stevart

"Empathy...fellow man...life changing experience..." Phuleeze...the only thing that changed about this amateur is her hair dye. Just keep the role gov small and arm the citizenry and all be better than this brave new world brain-dead intellects like yourself will create. AND I do wish I had a trust fund and the FEMA camps will come for many which is why supposed anti-capitalist movements like OWS who feed the growth of government are living a self-fulfilling prophesy. Corporations and the free market don't level onerous taxes nor can they imprison you. AND DiJoy is getting involved in social policy like she's trying on a new set of panties.

Jack Foreigner
Jack Foreigner

Ugh, stupid commenting system not nesting replies....

Gunelle
Gunelle

This was in response to "Guest's" comment: "I'll make it easy for you: Don't break the law and you won't have anything to worry about. The cops can stop and frisk you as much as they would like, but if you don't have anything illegal on you, they will let you go your merry way. I've been stopped and frisked over 15 times when I was younger and I never ever had a problem because I never had drugs or weapons on me."

OaklandOccupier
OaklandOccupier

Hi from California!

Paul, I'm curious to know then how NYC differs from other jurisdictions. I'm from Oakland, where Occupy protesters have been arrested and held on very high bails - recently as high as $100K to $150K (the same amount required of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, for goodness sake!).

These bails are of course impossible to post, so people are forced either to stay inside and await trial (in many cases this takes weeks or months) or to throw away thousands of dollars they don't have on bail bonds.

Then, if/when they are released, many are issued "stay away" orders which prohibit them from going to the former Occupy Oakland camp site - in many cases, even though they have not been convicted of any offense, and even though the offense they were arrested for did not take place at that site.

This appears to be a deliberate strategy by Alameda County DA Nancy O'Malley, and you can bet it is chilling dissent. The bail in itself, especially followed by the stay-away orders, is punitive and flies in the face of the whole "innocent until proven guilty" idea.

I know the Voice article was comprehensive and already quite long, but it would have been worth exploring these facets of the problem.

Occumom the occupy slut
Occumom the occupy slut

kalp, why dont you put up some of your hard earned money to help all these dumb bitches out who are getting arrested 666 times by the man?

Bailout ny
Bailout ny

kalp, I bet you're the type of cheap prick who doesnt even reach around to massage your boyfriend's balls when he's doing you up your butt.

Silkroad
Silkroad

Do you really believe you actually have to "do" something in order to get arrested? God, how terribly naive you are!

Gunelle
Gunelle

It is always astounding to me when people make ignorant comments such as this. For someone to get into "trouble with the law" does not always mean they must have done something to merit it. You think only people who actually commit crimes get arrested? You don't think people ever get arrested without actually having done anything illegal or by being wrongly accused? You don't think the police ever arrest someone simply because the police felt like it (abuse of power) or the person happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Happens all the time! That is why the very concept of innocent until proven guilty exists! When I see ignorant and, most of all, arrogant comments like these, I really wish the person would end up arrested one day (falsely) and then you'll see. I've been there, and I'm a middle-class educated white woman who never in my life would have expected to find myself arrested and thrown in the slammer. It can happen to the best of us. And the system is incredibly corrupt, it certainly has nothing to do with justice.

Zachary Kamel
Zachary Kamel

This is a legit online donation website that goes directly to members of the OWS Bail Fund and the National Lawyers Guild lawyers that work to bail us out. Thank you for your interest.

https://www.wepay.com/donation...

Bailout ny
Bailout ny

david, the best way you can help those who are stuck in jail without bail is by you getting put into jail----and allowing yourself to be anally raped by lonely prisoners.

Zachary Kamel
Zachary Kamel

You might want to look into the 4th amendment.... It's always good to know the constitution before you make absurd comments such as this.

Mike King
Mike King

I sat in jail for a year for looking like someone. Yes a year, they came at me with plea deals, time served and all that good stuff. Bail $500,000. Hell I could not afford that, so i had to sit and wait. Took it to trial and won. Because I was not the guy. You know I learned a thing or two, more people take deals to get out sooner, they did not the crime but to sit and fight it like did would take some time. Longer then the sentence they would get and way shorter then the deal they take. So please be aware, some day you could be sitting in your car and have some cop come up and think you fit the description of suspect and your in a jail cell. Quick note even if you win at trial there is no recourse for the time of your life that you lost.

Jack Foreigner
Jack Foreigner

What's really sad is that these people are the biggest flag-wavers around, mouthing platitudes about being proud to live in the land of the free, not understanding how it got to be free in the first place!

FWIW, I used to be one of these ignorant right-wing types and, yes, found myself behind bars for no good reason, opening my eyes to the injustice of the so-called criminal justice system. For example, did you know that Rikers' intake cells are full of cameras -- but they are never pointed in towards the cells?

That's because the cameras are for the benefit of the guards....

Jack Foreigner
Jack Foreigner

Wow, the fascination with homosexual rape. Log Cabin Republican?

Seriously, that's quite interesting how you think of "homosexual rape" when you think of "jail" -- even in the context of an article that clearly notes how many poor people, and innocent people, there are in jail.

 
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