THE BLOG
05/21/2014 04:33 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

Posting Bail for the Poorest of the Poor

$500 makes all the difference.

For thousands of indigent criminal defendants in New York City, $500 is all that stands between weeks on Riker's Island and being branded with a criminal conviction, and having the case against them dismissed. The problem is that when you're really poor, finding $500 bucks can be virtually impossible.

That's why we created the Bronx Freedom Fund -- the first licensed charitable bail fund in New York State.

And since WNYC just did a nice piece about our work, it seemed like a fitting lead-in to a quick review of how we've been doing the past six months, and just what a difference allowing people to fight their cases from a position of freedom rather than incarceration makes.

So, as Chair of the board, it brings me great pleasure to report that...

  • In cases in which we've posted bail, more than 80 percent of bail fund clients were spared the criminal records they would otherwise have been forced to accept had they been unable to make bail.
  • In the past six months, 98 percent of bail fund clients have returned to all of their court appearances to date.
  • 61 out of 62 clients who have had court appearances so far have returned to court for all of them, for a total of 139 scheduled court dates (including several on the same day as serious snowstorms).
  • No client is currently serving a sentence of incarceration on the case in which the Bronx Freedom Fund paid his or her bail.
  • Thus far it costs an average of just791 to bail someone out and thus fundamentally change the dynamics of the case.
  • 11/14 cases that have been resolved to date have resulted in a dismissal. One has resulted in a non-criminal disposition (a violation with a one-year conditional discharge). Of course the Freedom Fund is interested not only in the outcomes of the criminal cases in which we intervene, but in the life outcomes of the clients we are able to help. In order to try to measure that, we also track collateral consequences of incarceration that the Bronx Freedom Fund has helped clients to avoid. In the last six months our clients have regained the chance to carry on their daily lives in countless ways while their cases are pending. A selection of these consequences include:
  1. Avoiding deportation. Because we posted bail one client avoided deportation to a country where he had not lived since he was a teenager and another avoided deportation to a country where she would not have been able to receive adequate medical treatment for her chronic condition.
  2. Returning to public housing. Because we posted bail a client was able to remain in public housing rather than being evicted had she remained in jail.
  3. Retaining a spot in supportive housing with integrated drug treatment. Another client facing expulsion from the program was allowed to stay after the Freedom Fund posted his bail.
  4. Continuing to be a Parent. Because the Freedom Fund posted bail our client was able to attend his parenting classes and thus spend the holidays with a four-year-old son. Had he remained incarcerated, and unable to attend the classes, his visitation rights would have been curtailed or terminated for non-compliance.
  5. Maintaining Jobs: Because the Freedom Fund posted bail one recipient was able to maintain his employment as a certified nursing assistant for senior citizens, while another was able to maintain employment at a restaurant.
  6. Staying in School. Because the Freedom Fund posted bail another recipient was able to finish his GED course and get his certificate. Other recipients were enrolled in courses in Auto Mechanics, and Commercial Driving courses. Had they remained incarcerated they would not have been able to graduate nor get the certificates. In fact, they'd have lost the time and money they invested in the courses and would have had to start again.

In short, the numbers paint a pretty vivid picture of both the havoc wreaked when a poor person is forced to stay in jail because they are too poor to afford their freedom, as well as the extraordinary difference that posting bail makes.

I'm very proud of the work we've done so far.

There's lots more to do.

To learn more about our project, please visit Bronx Freedom Fund.