Sixty-five percent of people held in a local jail in the U.S., and 75 percent in New York City as recently as 2019, are there pretrial—without a conviction. Commissioned by the Justice Studies Center of the Americas, this article looks at the recent pretrial reforms that put New York City on track to close its notorious Rikers Island jail complex by 2026.
Being detained pretrial can cause many harms, this report notes, including penalizing people without money by setting unaffordable bail (over 85 percent of New Yorkers facing bail cannot pay in time to avoid jail time); pressuring people to accept guilty pleas to end their time in pretrial limbo behind bars; and compromising public safety through the lasting and damaging effects jail has on people’s lives after they are released.
As part of a groundbreaking set of legislative reforms, New York State eliminated bail and pretrial detention in the vast majority of criminal cases and required judges to consider what people can afford when they do set bail. At the city level, the mayoral administration expanded Supervised Release, a program that allows defendants to be released, while providing supervision aimed at ensuring they appear in court. New York’s reforms have yet to be thoroughly evaluated, but if they prove safe and effective, they can be an important model for the Americas.
EN ESPAÑOL: La reducción del uso de la prisión preventiva