New York City’s jail population dropped to a historic low following the COVID-19 outbreak on Rikers Island in March 2020. But six weeks later, the numbers began increasing again. The steady rise in admissions now threatens to wipe out the effect of the initial reductions, putting more New Yorkers at risk of contracting the virus in the high-risk conditions behind bars. Our analysis highlights the lessons of the multiple population trends from March to November.
Significantly reducing pretrial detention is an urgent policy imperative in New York City, which plans to close its notorious and inhumane jails on Rikers Island, build smaller new jails, and reduce the total number of people held in jail by more than half in the next six years. This document describes a set of strategies that New York City is adopting to address the well-documented harms of pretrial detention.
Our analysis of the revisions passed in April 2020 to New York State’s bail reform projects they will lead to a 16 percent increase in New York City’s pretrial jail population, relative to the effects of the original law. However, even the revised statute makes an estimated 84 percent of cases ineligible for bail. The analysis also weighs factors, including the COVID-19 emergency, that could produce a culture change in pretrial decision-making—in the direction of less, or more, reliance on detention.
Jails and prisons have quickly emerged as epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic. As New York City struggled to get people out from behind bars, it turned to a trio of nonprofits to repurpose a successful program on the fly. The urgency of supporting people released abruptly from jail in the midst of a pandemic is clear, but so are the challenges. The experience also raises the question: what happens to criminal justice when the virus ends?
Jails and prisons quickly emerged as epicenters of the COVID-19 virus. In March 2020, with an outbreak poised to sweep through the Rikers Island jail complex, New York City asked us and the city's other two supervised release providers to offer remote supervision and referrals to services for people released early from a jail sentence. About 300 people were released into the program. Results after six months show the program is reducing health risks and ensuring public safety.
Effective January 2020, New York State has passed reforms sharply curtailing the use of bail. This analysis explains several important provisions intended to protect victims of domestic violence and uses data from New York City to explore the reforms' potential implications in such cases.
In January 2020, New York State put into effect sweeping criminal justice legislation, strictly curtailing the use of cash bail and pretrial detention, overhauling rules governing the sharing of evidence, and strengthening measures to ensure a defendant's right to a speedy trial. Our analysis of the potential implications of the reforms to bail finds they can be expected to significantly reduce the use of incarceration in the state. (See here for our updated analysis of the April 2020 amendments to the legislation.)
Like a number of cities across the U.S., New York City is in the midst of a remarkable, often contentious, debate about the future and purpose of its jails. New Thinking host Matt Watkins recently moderated a public discussion of the city’s pledge to replace its notorious Rikers Island jail complex with a series of smaller, modern facilities—located near courthouses, not on an isolated island. It's a shift the mayor says will end the era of mass incarceration in the city.
In January 2016, jail reduction and victim advocates discussed strategies for including the voices of survivors of crime in implementing pretrial supervised release programs. This document highlights the far-reaching and complicated discussion.