The Problem:

Bail amounts in New York City are much lower than the national average. Yet only 10% of people are able to pay bail at arraignment. Another 30% make bail after arraignment, most within one week.

This suggests that these defendants may be able to come up with the money to pay bail, but that inefficiencies in the bail payment process could be leading to delays that result in unnecessary time behind bars.

If we can improve the process for posting bail, we can avoid the increased risk of recidivism that has been associated with just a few days behind bars as well as the sky-high costs of booking someone into jail.

Mapping the Obstacles to Paying Bail

The first step in speeding up and simplifying the bail payment process is understanding exactly what obstacles are getting in the way. To do so, the Mayor’s Office commissioned a study from the Center for Court Innovation to diagnose obstacles and develop ways to eliminate them.

In mapping the bail payment system, the Center for Court Innovation identified five key obstacles:

1.     People have little information about the bail system.

2.    It can be difficult to access cash to post bail.

3.    People are not aware of or have little information about bail expediting.

4.    Some people are unnecessarily held on $1 bail.

5.    Once someone is in jail, friends and family members have to travel to DOC facilities to post bail.

Learn more and read the complete report from the Center for Court Innovation here.


Speeding Up and Simplifying Bail Payment

The second step – after mapping the barriers to bail payment – is to remove these obstacles. The Mayor’s Office has worked with the Courts to roll out multiple changes over the last few months that address the procedural and physical barriers to paying bail.

1.      Making it easier for friends and family to post bail once someone is in jail.

Why it’s important: Approximately 16,000 individuals per year are bailed out of Department of Correction facilities, requiring family and friends to make the sometimes lengthy and costly journey to City jails. Seventy-five percent of defendants who make bail do so within the first week. The ability to pay bail online will allow families to post bail earlier and more easily, reducing unnecessary incarceration.

Progress to date:

> The City is working to launch an online bail payment system to allow friends and family to pay bail remotely via phone, the internet or kiosks, in partnership with DOC, the Department of Finance and the court system.

2.      Providing people with easy-to-understand information about the bail system.

Why it’s important: Given the high speed and high volume of cases, arraignments can be a hectic environment, and unfortunately friends and family may receive limited information about the bail amount, bail type and payment options. This gap in knowledge can make it difficult for friends and family to post bail in the courthouse or later on at DOC facilities, leading to or lengthening a defendant’s time behind bars.

Progress to date:

> A first-of-its-kind complete guide to the bail system is now available online.

> 311 operators are now equipped to answer questions about bail payment and connect people to available resources.

> Brochures about the bail payment process are now available in DOC facilities to aid friends and family of defendants.

3.      Making it easier to access cash to pay bail.

Why it’s important: Family and friends face a time crunch during the bail paying process at the courthouse with only a few hours to get to the courthouse, learn the bail amount, collect the cash and complete the payment process. Needing to leave the courthouse to find an ATM further complicates the process and stresses payers, particularly during arraignments occurring late at night when many businesses with ATMs may be closed.

Progress to date:

> ATMs are being installed in courthouses in all five boroughs.

4.      Eliminating fees associated with paying bail.

Why it’s important: Currently, any individual who pleads guilty or is convicted after posting bail would have 3% of his or her bail retained by the City before the rest of the bail was returned. Eliminating burdensome fines and fees enhances fairness.

Progress to date:

> The City and City Council announced a plan to eliminate this 3% fee, ensuring that all friends and family who post bail receive the full amount back.

5.      Reducing unnecessary $1 bail holds.

Why it’s important: When defendants have multiple cases, it sometimes happens that the individual will have $1 bail set in the second case – this $1 bail amounts to an accounting mechanism, allowing data systems to credit the defendant for all time in jail. However, sometimes the first case is resolved and the $1 bail ends up being the only reason that someone remains in jail.

Progress to date:

> The City has created a $1 bail alert to notify both court personnel and the defense attorney when a defendant may be held solely due to $1 bail.

> Once the city-wide bail fund begins operations, the City will work with defender organizations to marshal the bail fund’s resources to help attorneys post $1 bail.


What Comes Next

More needs to be done to ensure that procedural or physical obstacles to bail payment are not leading to unnecessary time behind bars. Learn more below about the solutions we currently have in development and check back here to see our progress.

1.      Providing people with information about bail expediting.

Why it’s important: When friends or family of a defendant indicate to the Criminal Justice Agency that they are on the way to courthouse to post bail, it is possible for a defendant to remain at the courthouse on a “bail hold” until someone arrives to post bail, instead of being transferred to DOC. However, the process for initiating a bail hold is not uniform and sometimes not long enough.

Solutions in development:

> Increase awareness among defense lawyers of the “bail hold” option

> Investigate potential to lengthen bail holds